This story starts about 4-ish days before I knew I would be going to Everest.
I arrived in Semporna with 4 nights accommodation booked. The itinerary was set in stone:
- Day 1: Arrive
- Day 2: Diving in Siouan
- Day 3: Dive in Sipadan
- Day 4: Leave
Even before I had arrived, where to go afterwards had been bugging me. With a lot of SE Asia under the belt, there were a few choices:
- Finishing off some of the SE Asian places I didn’t get a chance to do before – Sulawesi and Timor in Indonesia, South Korea, parts of the Philippines.
- Or commit 3 months to the bigger places I hadn’t been to – either China or India.
- Or go nuts and go to Cuba before the Americans arrive in greater exodus turning Cuba into Cancun.
I thought I’d have plenty of time to decide during my four days in Semporna. I was very wrong. It turns out looking at all of this stuff kept me fairly busy…
So the morning of day 4 arrived and I checked out. Still without the slightest idea of where I’d go. All I knew is I had to get out of Semporna. It’s a particularly unappealing place. I may not have known where to go next, but staying in Semporna to decide was absolutely not the solution. So, I sat in the common area, with all of my bags packed, hatching a plan. I figured I’d fly back to somewhere cheap that I had enjoyed; so started looking for flights to Kuching, Bangkok and less enthusiastically, Kuala Lumpur. I decided to fly back to Kuching via Kota Kinabalu.
I told reception I’d need a bus to the airport. They ‘rang’ the bus company and told the 2 o’clock bus to arrive at the hostel to pick me up.
2 o’clock arrived but no bus. After 10 minutes, I asked the receptionist if this bus is going to arrive. He started ringing around frantically. Nobody was picking up, nonetheless he tried to look busy and helpful. At 1430, I said, stop, this the isn’t coming is it. He said no. I asked what other options there were. He said I could go to the bus station where buses leave every two hours. Or, I can try and catch a minivan which only leaves once it’s full. I asked if the bus station is the same bus that was meant to arrive. He said no. I said if it’s every two hours when’s the next bus. He looked at the clock and said, “I think you should be fine”. So I walked 30 mins in search of this bus station using his back of an envelope drawn map. When I finally found it the bus schedule said the bus had left at 2 pm. It was the same damn bus that hadn’t picked me up and that he couldn’t get hold of. I had wasted a whole hour for this bus.
I found the minivan and in broken Bahasa told him to drive as fast as is possible to the airport. Thankfully he did and I made it to the check-in counter 2 minutes before it closed.
In Kuching, I committed some time to working out where to go next whilst spending the evening catching up with the various friends I had made whilst I was there before.
After much to-ing and fro-ing I decided to go to Sri Lanka, then India, then Nepal. I called home and had a long overdue catch up with mum, dad, and bro. Mum made the very sensible point, that the longer in the year I leave Nepal, the colder it’ll get whereas South India and Sri Lanka will still be good. So I changed my mind. Instead of booking a £50 flight to Sri Lanka via KL for two days time, I booked a £100 flight to Nepal via KL for two days time.
I flew to Kathmandu with no idea what I’d do once I got there.
Kathmandu – Touristy Stuff
The first and most obvious thing to note about Kathmandu was the fuel shortage. Everyone was talking about it on the plane – wondering how they’d get to their respective villages and towns once they arrived. Even the taxi drivers stubbornly refused to negotiate, quoting the fuel shortage as the problem. Over the course of the following few weeks, restaurants started only serving limited menus because of the fuel shortage.
The main tourist area in Kathmandu is Thamel. It’s about as touristy as a place can get. It’s not unusual to see groups of western tourists holding hands, chanting in the streets, wearing the traditional-esque clothing that only tourists would buy and wear.
Nonetheless, walking around and getting lost in the backstreets – one of my favourite things to do when arriving in a new city and town – was enjoyable. See pictures from the post containing pictures from the first 24 hours.
From Thamel, the Monkey Temple is only a 40-minute walk and well worth a visit.
Kathmandu – Some actual decisions
With some touristy stuff under the belt, I had to research what I wanted to do in Nepal.
So I did some Google searching and spoke to some people around the hostel – in particular Yann, whom I had met in Jakarta a few months earlier. He spoke of his journey to Everest Base Camp. I figured I’m in Nepal, it’d be silly not to visit.
After a bit more researching about what I’d need and what I’d need to do, I felt comfortable with the whole thing. I booked a flight to Lukla for the Monday in two days time. I spent the rest of the day walking around trying to find the cheapest places to buy some supplies. I’d need some thermal trousers, a hoody, some socks and hiking shoes. As much faith as I had in my Vibram five finger shoe, I figured I’d need something warmer – or at least some socks to wear with it. Further south from the tourist trap that is Thamel, I found the local “Asoc Market”. Even further south was the wholesale market. Most wholesalers wouldn’t sell to me. A few agreed to but, obviously, refused to negotiate on price. I asked about the price of different items and how it changes with different units. I wanted to find out the likely cost price of retailers, so I know how far I can negotiate them down. My best bet was to not buy one unit from the wholesalers, but find a retailer who would have got a much better cost price by buying in bulk.
The next day, equipped with some back pocket information about the cost price, and some newfound friends who are better at negotiating than me, we headed out on a shopping spree. I was still in two minds as to whether to buy shoes. They’d be expensive. They’d add weight to my backpack. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have broken them in, so ran the possibility of causing some seriously uncomfortable damage to my feet.
I bought a hoody for $19, some warm trousers for $5, a cap for $3.5, and tie thick hiking socks for $6. I was still unsure about the boots. Eventually, I decided it’s better to have some rather than risk not finding someone who’d rent them. After quite a bit of shopping around, I found a pair that I wanted, but he didn’t have the right size. I settled for the next best. The front of the shoe flexed a lot which was important as I wouldn’t be breaking them in. After some negotiating I got the price down to $30 and got him to throw in a $2 head ware band for the German girl who had helped me to shop around. For about £40 I snagged some essential, and pretty playing quality gear.