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Video: Mark Walking The World

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So following on from Ali's walking video, Here is my 10 months of travel condensed into a few minutes. We recorded little moments of walking, trekking or hiking (they're all the same thing right?) from across the globe that took us all across these countries: Slovenia, Slovakia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Jordan, Armenia and Georgia.

Music is Lemon Jelly's 'Ramblin Man', Enjoy...

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Video: Georgia

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Like Europe but not Europe, Georgia sits neatly in the Caucasus between Russia and the Middle East. The perfect blend of east-meets-west and all the better for it. Fantastic weather, stunning landscapes, cheap to travel in and the nicest people you'll meet anywhere.

We absolutely loved our two weeks in Georgia because we managed to do so much. The capital Tbilisi is a fantastic place to start; culture, bars, parks and travel routes all across the country. Talking of country, make sure you get up to Kazbegi for some unreal mountains just hours outside of the capital. The city of love, Mediterranean beaches (well the Black Sea), Svaneti; there's just too much to do. 

Get yourselves over to Georgia. Fast. Our flights home were just £38 each!

Here's a video we made of our two week adventure in Georgia....

 

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Armenia: Day Hikes From Dilijan National Park

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After hearing tales of an 'Armenian Switzerland', we were compelled to visit the Dilijan National Park, a fast becoming go-to hiking destination. It would soon join up with the epic trans-Caucasus trekking routes (TCT), linking up with trails in both Georgia and Azerbaijan. The plan, to create a network of hiking trails that boot-clad walkers can use to traverse the beautiful Armenian landscapes of the Caucasus.

 

Clearly, it's an awesome idea and one day it'll be great but the Armenian section of the TCT, as of summer 2018, isn't really finished. There's plenty of literature written on the developed Georgian and Azerbaijani sections but at the time of writing, the Armenian part of the trail has some way to go before it will become a tourist friendly, easily accessible and properly signed trail of the TCT. That said, it's a beautiful place and with a sense of adventure there's fun times to be had in Armenia's best known National Park. 

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

The TCT

A week before we boarded a marshutka (minivan) to Dilijan, we found a USAID sponsored booklet with 11 Dilijan walking trails in, the book was hidden in our Yerevan hostel! Upon closer inspection it became clear that the guide was a pretty basic resource with unreadable maps and long prose of text to describe the trails. We assumed the resources were one of many medias that hikers’ could use to navigate the national park. Unfortunately not, the booklet is the only resource available to hikers who want to explore the National Park, the one we found under a bed in a hostel.

Before trying to follow any of the trails, we checked in with tourist information in Dilijan and they certified that the booklet that we had accidentally found, was the only guide available to tourists. They didn’t even seem to have any copies of the booklet at the information centre, so it was pure luck we discovered it. What I’m trying to say is that there is very little administration or organisation of the nature reserve right now. We sense that an adventurer's spirit would be necessary to enjoy the hikes, we weren't wrong either.

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2 Decent Walks

So, we attempted two of the walks from the booklet, which we’ll talk you through below, and found one to be a short warm-up hike from Dilijan centre and the second a long loop from the old town of Dilijan up to the highest mountain peak in the area and back into town. There are many other routes in the booklet but they all include taxi drop-offs and pickups, I personally hate having to drive somewhere to start a hike, it goes against my whole ethos of walking in nature, so we avoided any routes that included driving.

The remaining 9 hikes routes have been photographed and displayed at the bottom of the post.

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General tips

  • The main tip given by our Airbnb host was not to walk in the woods at night because packs of wolves have been known to roam, apparently they can be heard in the evenings too! Fun but a little concerning if you're out there wild camping.

  • We read there were many bears in the reserve but local people believe that they live much further in the forest.

  • Take enough water because once you hit the nature reserve you won’t find any shops.

  • As always, pack for wind, rain and shine.

  • Pack lunch for walk 2 because you’ll be out all day.

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Walk 1 - Dilijan Roundabout To A (Very Small) Waterfall 

Difficulty: Medium - Due to slippery rocks that must be ascended to reach the waterfall

Time: 3 hours at slow pace

Equipment: Waterproof walking boots recommended

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Description: What makes this an interesting walk is that it leads you along a disused train line, defunct power station and generally tired ex-Soviet warehouses that are ripe for some exploring. The path goes upstream aside a river becoming a standard up and down hike where the path can be hard to follow. It’s worth noting that there are two sections where you’ll need to clamber up wet rocks. This is a bit slippery and there is a risk of putting a foot into the stream (see picture below). We would only recommend this section for physically fit hikers. If you don’t fancy a potentially wet climb then you wouldn’t miss much by heading back to Dilijan at the first slippery rocks. 

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Route:  

  • The hike will start from the roundabout where you’ll need to head north on the road leading to Ijevan but don’t worry you’ll soon be on a green, albeit industrial, train line with the sound of the road just a faint hum.

  • Follow the road from the roundabout for about 0.8 km until you see the sign for the Dilijan tourist information centre where you can pop in for a chat. When you’re finished head the opposite way up a small track (walking away from town) where you’ll see the train line running alongside the base of the nature reserve on your left.

  • Follow the track for 1.5 km, remember to enjoy the disused soviet train buildings and power station, until you spot a petrol station on the road below. Look left, you will see a path and some nondescript signage running along a stream, follow that stream.

  • When we walked the route in April 2018 it wasn’t clearly signed, just some labels on the trees. As more people walk the route I’m sure it will be better trodden. You may need to create your own path at times by walking through medium length grasses, always following the river upwards.

  • Early on the river will split, take the left-hand stream.

  • Remember to carefully ascend the two sets of slippery rocks that the river runs down, you’ll need to carefully climb up the rocks, this is where your waterproof boots are necessary! You might be able to climb over the sides but these look steep and just as treacherous.

  • After 1.5 km you’ll approach a sign that symbols the end of the walk and you’ll set eyes on the smallest waterfall ever! Enjoy the serene overflowing flora and head back to town for some fresh matnakash (bread) and butter with a glass of the local red.

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Walk 2 - Dilijan Loop

Difficulty: Hard -  Due to long climbs to the peak

Time: 6-8 hours at a medium pace

Equipment: Walking boots recommended, download ‘Maps.Me’ for reliable offline routes

Supplies: Bring food and water for whole day trek, this can be bought from Old Dilijan as you pass through in the morning.

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Description: The official guide supplies the most awful description on how to get there, I can only assume it was intended for driving because it was the longest possible way to get to the start of the walk. Use our simplified route below or Maps.Me to navigate the many upward roads out of Old Dilijan (or Upper Dilijan) to start off the hike. This walk is great, passing through farmland, streams, forest, open plains and mountains. It’s a long, and at times tiring, hike that leads you through some beautiful landscapes right to the highest mountain in the area. We didn’t see a single soul the entire walk, which was pretty cool considering that walks in most countries are very busy. The majority of paths are very clear and some even have TCT labelling, making the trail easy to follow.

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Route:

  • If you intend to walk the whole route then you should start your hike from the roundabout where you’ll need to head south east on the road that leads up to Old Dilijan, sometimes called Upper Dilijan. This route will zig zag up the hill eventually going north east, passing shops, schools, restaurants and the interesting hubbub of everyday Armenian life. Pick up affordable bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables, plus any sugary treats :-)

  • Look out for Kamarin Street on the right and then take the first left up Ordzhonikidze street. This road will take you close to the start of the trek. Be aware that it’s uphill and will take around 20 - 30 minutes.

  • When the road ends, turn right and you’ll spot yellow gas pipes snaking around the road like a frame. Keep walking upwards until the road becomes a dirt track, you’ll spot a tired looking sign that marks the start of the walk, with the hike starting on the left.

  • Begin by walking up a rough stone path for 100 metres until it forks, take the right path. Soon after, the path splits again into three, take the centre route (the right path is where you’ll return via at the end of the trek)

  • Walk for a few km passing picnic benches and farmland, the trail is actually a road used by agricultural vehicles and jeeps so it’s easy to follow.

  • That said, you must leave the road when you see a very small pond on the left, next to one of the farmers dwellings. We were lucky the lady in the farm pointed us the way, it was easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled. The trail heads right as you arrive at the farm with the pond and it passes upwards following a dry ravine. Keep walking up until you see a well trodden trail develop on the left, it may also be found on Maps.Me (but I don’t remember checking).

  • Once you’ve found the trail you will follow a well established path, follow it for about an hour or so; you’ll see TCT signs stapled to the trees the whole way, it’s very clear. When you reach a rocky stream you should follow it along o the left and take the established path up on the right. You’ll see that some people have clambered up the steep ledge, which we didn’t fancy!

  • The trail will pass through sparse forests and zig zag upwards, opening up at a large open plain with an awesome view of the mountain ahead that you’re about to climb.

  • Continue along the jeep tracks ahead of you, until you get to the base of the mountain.

  • The next bit is pretty obvious, climb the beast ahead of you. There’s no one way to climb up, we walked up the centre path and then up to the left and followed the ridge to the top. There’s a trail of sorts but you can easily freestyle.

  • It was chilly at the top so we had a quick lunch break and then carefully walked down the long grasses to find the well trodden path leading back to Dilijan, it was a clearly marked trail that the farmers still use.

  • You’ll walk for around an hour or so downwards, remember to check Maps.Me to make sure you’re walking towards the Old Dilijan start point, you can see the entire loop on the app.

  • With Dilijan in view the whole way it’s easy to navigate a route back to the town and you’ll get a nice vista too.

  • Success! You’ve arrived back in town, why not celebrate with some food in the lovely cafe no.2 near the roundabout?

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

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9 other walking routes in the Dilijan National Park

Did you find our hiking advice useful? Or perhaps you discovered your own trekking route in Dilijan? Have some top tips that you think we missed?

Let us know in the comments box at the bottom of the post...

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Nepal: 20 Photos That Will Make You Want To Trek The Annapurna Circuit

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Annapurna Circuit

Since the 1970s, generations of travellers have told wondrous tales of the Annapurna circuit.  Tales of a trek that can last up to 3 whole months in dizzyingly high altitude in the Himalayas, we were intrigued.  We first heard about it from a couple we met in Laos, they had just completed the circuit and were clearly in awe so we did some research to find out what all the fuss was about. It seems quite silly that we hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago, it's one of the most popular circuits in world! This became all-so-clear upon our arrival in Nepal, this country is a mecca for trekking and the Annapurna circuit is the perfect breeding ground for adventures, new walking friends and the highest mountains in the world.

Annapurna has truly stunning and dynamic landscapes that change every day of the route.  It's hard to believe you can find both jungle and artic tundra just a few days walk away! This is the holy grail of the great outdoors, so here are 20 images that will make you want to strap your boots on, pack your thermals and go tackle the infamous Annapurna Circuit.

 

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Scale

I’m not sure there’s anywhere in the world that can make you feel quite so small as the Himal and Annapurna mountains. Even after weeks of trekking, the mountain’s scale still takes your breath away, but not as much as the air-thinning experience of climbing to the top of one!

 

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Snow

Let it not snow, if truth be told. The Thorang-La pass is scary and dangerous enough without a snow storm and after 10 days of perfect blue skies, it was an un-wanted surprise that a storm hit for the morning of the pass.  Although, on reflection, the snow actually made the experience more memorable and certainly more challenging. The ever changing weather of the Himalayas is part of the package and clearing the top of the pass in a blizzard will be a story for the grandkids.

 

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Blessed

If you take the yellow side-route up into the mountains above Khudi, you’ll find homestays run by warm and welcoming self-sufficient families. As well as feeding and providing shelter for you, they may also bless you with a Tibetan sash and milky rice stuck to your forehead. Ali was so touched by our host's blessing she became overwhelmed by emotion.  It had been 3 rough days of recovering from food poisoning, and the well wishes were the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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Flags

Most of Nepal is Hindu, 80% to be precise, but in mountain communities most are Buddhist and nothing symbolises the simplicity and beauty of Buddhist belief like the coloured flags with Tibetan scripture on them, flapping in the wind.

 

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Pals

Nothing brings people together like a challenge, tough environments and relentless Daal Bhat for dinner every evening. The Annapurna circuit attracts all ages of like-minded people, it's really easy to meet walking buddies and with new pals comes fun, good chats and high moral for the more challenging parts like the pass. 

 

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Storm

After 8 months of travelling we felt confident we’d experienced much of the world's harshest weather, wrong! Himalayan storms, caused by tornados in warmer places, are brutal, long and pretty scary experiences. You can hear them thundering hours before they hit but when they do…oh boy!

 

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Children

Walking the mountain paths takes you through villages and communities, so you can expect to walk into a few ragamuffins’ like these scruffy girls playing games in the village. Expect many greetings on the circuit from little mouths, “Namaste” echoing from village to village.

 

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Luck

When an environment is challenging, communities come together. Passing through villages and observing generations of families still following long practiced religious rituals on a daily basis is very special. Why not get involved and spin the Buddhist wheels of luck, clockwise that is.

 

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Pines

After days of gradually getting closer to the Annapurna mountains you’ll suddenly find yourself in ever-changing environments. The beautiful pine forests on the way to Lower Pisang made us feel like we just walked into another national park, this can happen a lot on the Annapurna circuit!

 

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Gazing

Whether you’re on your own, in group or with a friend you must take some time to just stare at the mountains. It’s not very likely that you will find many taller or more beautiful, it’s the perfect excuse to rest your weary pins before the next ascent.

 

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Vistas

As you leave Manang you will find the landscape starts to tear open in all directions. Aqua lakes form from snow run off, grass turns to brown steppe and the paths split into the different routes. It’s the perfect vista to remember the trek by and, in our opinion, it’s the most beautiful part of the circuit.

 

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Rivers

Follow the river, it always takes you somewhere interesting. In this case, the path leads to Tilicho Lake which is the highest lake in the world. It takes a whole day of walking to reach Tilicho base camp, but with views like this on the way you’ll be completely mesmerised.

 

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Bag

There are few things that never leave your side on the trek. Luckily for Ali one of those things is me! But just as important is your backpack. It’s a heavy yet vital piece of equipment, but when you get to throw it down, rest your body and look back at what you’ve conquered, it makes carrying 12kg all the more bearable.  Although Ali almost let her bag roll of a mountain edge, twice! 

 

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Townships

As you climb above 3000 metres, you’ll start to spot ancient villages built from local stones that blend seamlessly with dusty rocky steppe on the way to Thorang-La. Take time to walk through these townships and admire how people survived in this challenging high altitude environment, many years ago.

 

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Landslides

It sounds a little scary, and it is a little scary. To reach Tilicho lake you’ll pass through a falling rock area where small rocks hurtle south like they’ve come from Federra’s tennis racket. The sheer force of the moving rocks create stunning, almost abstract, shapes of colour down to the base of the ravine. 

 

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Tilicho

Who wouldn’t want to set eyes on the highest lake in the world? It was a gruelling 3 hour walk on a disintegrating path with thick snow, but reaching 5014 meters high, short on breath with a view of the Annapurna mountains one side and the lake the other has been one of life’s greatest achievements. It’s also the perfect practice for the high altitude pass….

 

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Cliffs

Unlike in many other countries, you’ll rarely need to queue to enjoy an amazing viewpoint. After taking the side route through Upper Khangsar we stumbled onto this uninhabited view point over the Manang valley. It would have been rude not to take a picture of Ali enjoying the view from the edge of a very high cliff.

 

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Thorang-La

After 4 gruelling hours of air-constrained climbing up the slippery paths in the snow, we finally made it to 5416 metres above sea level and here’s the photo to prove it! It’s truly one of the hardest things you can do but its worth every second. You’ll feel like an absolute hero until you realise that the Nepalese shop owner in the hut next to us endures the same walk everyday to sell tourists hot drinks!

 

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Sculptures

Once you’re over the pass the landscape changes dramatically. Everything gets larger and more spaced out and the rocks turn a dirty brown as desert starts to take over the land. You can sit and watch the clouds for hours as they dance over the huge rock sculptures below. 

 

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Steppe

The Nepali steppe isn't everyones favourite, most trekkers skip it by taking a jeep down to the greener bits of the circuit further south. For us, we love the desolate sombre colours of the Nepali steppe, dust filled, spiky shrubs and barely another soul in sight. It’s another day of adventure on the Annapurna circuit as we cross the steppe.

 

Why Trek The Annapurna

We've trekked in many countries but very few compare to the sheer epic beauty of Nepal's Annapurna and Himalayan mountains. We fought with illness, altitude sickness and battered bodies to complete the 3 week trek, but it was worth it. It was amazing and we'd do it again in a second if we could, we might even come back next year if we can afford to! If you do only one multi day trek in your life make it the Annapurna circuit.

 

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Laos: 3 Wild Days In The Nam Ha Jungle

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Nam Ha - At A Glance

  • Tours can be booked from Luang Namtha, there are many firms to book with so make sure you ask questions about which part of the park you'll visit, food, drink, sleeping, mosquito net etc.
  • Be wary of the cheaper tours because we read many poor reviews from groups who weren't even taken into the national park, even though they had paid to.
  • Prices range depend on how long you wish to tour for and with how many people, as a rough guide we paid 956,242 kip (£90) pp on a 6 person tour for 3 days, with the highest rated tour operator in town!
  • Make sure you pack sunscreen, insect repellent, sun hat, warm clothes, swimwear, sandals and walking (or bamboo) poles for the muddy paths.
  • No showers over the three days but you can wash in the rivers, bring a quick dry towel.
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VIDEO

Watch the highlights of our 3 day tour where we trekked, kayaked and frog munched our way through the Nam Ha national park in Laos.

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Tropical Un-paradise 

Upon reaching the tropical paradise of Laos we were surprised to find that it wasn’t that tropical nor a paradise. Our arrival into the underwhelming capital of Vientiane greeted us with the rubbish covered Mekong River, more tourists than locals and a dirty hazy environment.  We weren’t impressed. Vowing to escape this Vientiane for some nature, we hedged our bets on the Nam Ha National Park near Luang Namtha, in the very north of the country.  It took two days to get there and we hoped the extensive travel would be worth it. It cost 135,000kip (£12) pp for a sleeper minibus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Next, a 130,000kip (£11.5) pp minibus for 8 winding hours ride from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha. The upside down stomach and mild hangover was only partly to blame for the travel sickness, the rest lies with the driver (who drove like Damon Hill!)

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Booking A Tour Into Nam Ha

We had emailed the company Laos Forest Retreats based on their great reviews to discuss the different tours they offered and they sounded very organised. In contrast, one of their competitors took a tour group to the edge of the park, not even in it, and walked them in a circle with no views. So do some research before booking! We signed up for the next morning and luckily 4 others grabbed the bait too, which brought the price down considerably to around 956,242 kip (£90) pp for three days of trekking, kayaking, food, accommodation and a range of guides for different activities. Accommodation at Luang Namtha was cheap too, we were told 80,000 kip (£7.2) pp for double room but got another 2,000 kip off with no real haggling. Always ask if they can do a better deal. We hit the Luang Namtha night market for noodles and pancakes before resting up for the trek ahead.

Trekking through the jungle in the Nam Ha national park near Luang Prabang, Laos. by Studio Mali

Every Shade Of Green

The Forest Retreat tour company beckoned us across for an eggy breakfast and coffees at 8am so we could chat with our fellow explorers. We had a solid crew with a Dutch contingent in Sebastian, Evelyn and Evie, and Australian Mark all of which were super friendly and wanted to vacate the busy cities of Laos too. Breakfast devoured, we hit the road for an hour before jumping out the tuk tuk at an army checkpoint, we think they were checking locals for poaching from the park. A small path off the road is our starting point and before us stands a huge lush jungle that is so green we could hardly see which way the path goes. It’s wet too, for the first few minutes we slip around on the muddy ground before adjusting. Everyone knows this will be quite an adventure!

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Bugs, Caterpillars And Chickens 

Jungles are incredible places. The Nam Ha national park has incredible eco systems with trees hijacking and killing other trees, snakes shedding their skins, frogs, stick insect, flying crickets, goats, monkeys, ducks, dogs, cats, the biggest spiders we’ve ever seen, leeches and oh so many chickens. For facebook sharing small animal lovers they might have found heaven with abundance of tiny piglets. Our guide told us scare stories of poisonous caterpillars that would leave you numbed for weeks if it touches you, wolf packs also roam in the park and you might be lucky enough to find huge snakes that only feed 4 times a year! We were never scared as long as Pengh our guide and Australian Mark were happy, nothing seemed to spook them. Although Mark did find the scary furry caterpillar on his towel on the last day, by this point he was as jungle savvy as Bear Grylls and hit it off with a bamboo stick!

Mark, Sebastian, Evelyn, Ali, Evie and Mark 

Mark, Sebastian, Evelyn, Ali, Evie and Mark 

Walking On Clay

Our first day of trekking consisted of 5 slippery hours on an undulating path that sank deep into wet jungle clay and up into the arid mountains peaks. Although finding a view on the peaks with such an overgrown expanse of green was not so easy. The jungle has huge palm, banana and elephant leaves and long jungle vines that our guide could climb easily. The day passes in a sweaty montage and we reach the Khmu village of Ban Nalan where every cabin is made from bamboo, on stilts above the ground. In days long past, families kept livestock under their houses which made malaria far more of a menace. Now their animals are kept miles away as a precaution. It’s a simple existence here where families sit around fires and children run by with no shoes, playing with bamboo toys. A family sets up beds for us in their lodge and prepare dinner, whilst we bath in the freezing river that the village relies on. Fire is lit and beers are drunk before squeezing into a mosquito net for the night, the villagers were all asleep by 8pm as it’s unusually cold for the time of year.

Village life

Village life

Old lady smoking tobacco by a fire.  They say the smoke keeps the mozzies away.

Old lady smoking tobacco by a fire.  They say the smoke keeps the mozzies away.

The Village People

Here are some of the rules of the village. People get married at 16 by trying to find partners from theirs or other villages but sometimes they marry family. One of the villages are inhabited by the Khmu people, once married they still live with their parents until family gets too big. The man must provides for his wedding and look after his family financially, saving lots of money to invite as many as 2000 people to their special day. Children attend a tiny school where all ages are taught by just one teacher and the school is one of the biggest buildings in the village. All the folk wash themselves and their clothes in the river, it looks a bit like a herbal essences advert when the young women wash their hair together in the evenings. We try and spend some money in each village by buying some of their handicrafts, hand sewn bracelets and bags, not forgetting their warm beer Lao.

Nam Ha Rapids With Bamboo Spiders

An old chap with 3 inflatable kayaks turns up the next morning, he inflates them as we dine on noodle soup made by Pengh. The rapids we are about to tackle are quite fast, advice is given on the technique needed for some of the big turns. The strongest person should sit in the rear to direct the steering, luckily for Ali, Mark sits in the back in a pool of water and has a wet bum. We are warned about hitting the bamboo plants at the rivers edge as they hold families of spiders. As you can imagine our fellow travellers pass the bends with textbook ease but we speed directly into a spiders nest, apparently ignoring the warning 5 minutes before! We make a quick recovery turning the boat around into the downstream current. It looked like we had escaped until we notice the refugees! 20 spiders about the size of large coins! We grapple with ejecting the imposters while trying to chart a straight course, luckily the buggers don’t bite. Eventually we brush off the last one and we manage the rest of the day with no more disasters, visiting two ethnic villages on the way. Although our counterparts did face some danger, Sebastian, Evelyn, Evie and Australian Mark all got knocked out of their kayaks by hitting trees and rocks. The guides were laughing a lot at this.

A jungle dinner.... fresh foods served on banana leaves during our jungle trek through the Nam Ha national park in Laos. by Studio Mali

Dining Off Banana Leaves

It should be noted just how good the jungle food was. At every meal time our guide would cut down huge banana leaves and spread them across the floor to create a natural table cloth. Our food was then poured onto the leaves where we would grab mouthfuls of freshly prepared food with our hands. These were some of the things we dined on over the 3 days: sticky rice, banana, morning glory, squash, courgette, chicken, stink bugs with chilli garlic and ginger, green beans, frogs, sour fruits, scrambled egg with tomato and parsley, fruit, noodle soup, fried egg and baguette. Check the photos. Our guide also spotted nuts and sour fruits that he found in jungle whilst trekking. You’ll need to be a bit open minded to enjoy the food on a trek like this. One of the frogs was full of frogspawn, which didn’t taste so good.

The moody villager

The moody villager

The Only Way Is Up

Our guide with the kayaks waves us goodbye as he takes the river down to the last camp, we’ll meet him later. We would climb a mountain with the best view point of the tour. It was a sunny day and a sweaty climb but the view at the top was pretty special. A vista of jungle that stretched as far as we could see, we spend some time taking it in. Next it’s navigating the jungle down to the fisherman’s village where we will camp. It’s a secluded spot where frogs sing loudly all night. We have a dip in the river and enjoy a night around the fire that our Dutch friends started earlier. Everything in this camp is built from bamboo: cups, tables, seats, steaming apparatus. A piece is left on the fire which sounds like a shotgun when it explodes from the heat, we think we are being attacked by the Viet Cong when one blows!

A view from the top of the jungle

A view from the top of the jungle

8 Hour Exit

Day 3 of the tour is a simple but lengthy trek out of the Nam Ha Park to our tuk tuk driver.  The walk could be broken down into three parts; a steep and slippery first climb, a short flat plateau and a mild climb at the end. The higher you get the drier it becomes and as result the climb is easier. The view at the top is not as clear as the previous days, and weather is generally poorer too, but being in the jungle is always interesting. Australian Mark knows lots about the different trees and explains how they grow extra vines to support their weight at higher altitudes, nature’s engineering is impressive. We run into the super poisonous caterpillars three times on the way down, one is at hand height on an easily grabbed branch. Luckily Pengh spots this and warns us, even he seems a bit concerned about it. We finish with a final bit of kayaking down some rapids to meet our driver and then 45 mins back to Luang Namtha.  I wish we’d changed out of our wet swim trunks because we were freezing in the open windy tuk tuk. Our 3 days in the jungle will be remembered; great friends, amazing scenery and the jungle is, truly, massive!

We booked with Forest Retreat Laos who were great, run by a really helpful Dutch chap called Sandor. We would definitely recommend paying a bit more for a well organised tour.

http://forestretreatlaos.com/3-day-jungle-treks-laos/

 

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Laos - 3 Wild Days In The Nam Ha Jungle, by Studio Mali
 

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The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain: A Sketch Session

Getting arty in Yunnan, China

Getting arty in Yunnan, China

Ali thumbnail sml.jpg
 

At the foot of the enormous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain sits the ancient town of Baisha, a little haven of friendly locals, minority culture and exquisite textiles.  We spent a week here, basking in the autumn sunshine, strolling the cobbled streets and chatting with smiling Baisha-folk.  After all of China's intensity and busyness, Baisha was the ultimate chill out destination and immediately it felt like home.  

With plenty of time on our hands and some art materials we picked up on the way, we pitched up in a nearby field and decided to get sketching!  To be perfectly honest, we don't spend very much time drawing these days, and so a little creative challenge whilst on the road can only be good for us.  One of things that we love about travelling is that you get time to do things like this and we are always visiting places where the landscapes are just sublime.  How can you resist taking an hour out to draw these magical mountains?!

Just take a look at the backdrop for our sketch session and the artworks that followed.....

The stunning view for our still life session: The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

The stunning view for our still life session: The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Mark working on his sketch using expressive strokes and inky washes....

Mark working on his sketch using expressive strokes and inky washes....

The final presentation!  After 45 minutes of ink to paper this is what Mark came up with....

The final presentation!  After 45 minutes of ink to paper this is what Mark came up with....

.... and Ali showing off her heavy black lines.

.... and Ali showing off her heavy black lines.

Mark's final artwork - moody with linear shapes contouring the landscape.  A combination of ink, black fine liner and pencil.

Mark's final artwork - moody with linear shapes contouring the landscape.  A combination of ink, black fine liner and pencil.

Ali's final artwork - deep contrasts, bold strokes and negative space.  Using only black ink and water.

Ali's final artwork - deep contrasts, bold strokes and negative space.  Using only black ink and water.

We had a really relaxing time painting the mountain scenery, it's not like we have a view like this everyday.  Sometimes we can forget how nice it is to put pen to paper and remembering that it's not always about the outcome, but about taking enjoyment from the process of drawing.  We value being close to nature, and this was the perfect activity taking a moment to look at what's around us in detail.  The lesson for us is to draw more often and spend a little longer taking in the environments around us!

 

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The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain: A Sketch Session
 

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