South Asia '22
Here, I will write about my travels this year in South Asia. In the first part of 2022, I left my job & apartment and got rid of most of my stuff- down to a 65 liter backpack which weighs 40 pounds fully packed.
In the spring I’ll travel in India, and then head north to the Himalayas for the summer. At some point I’ll meet a wild Natalie and we’ll head south to the jungles of Southeast Asia.
I post on my Instagram linked below, and I’ll use this for the longer form stuff. I’m reachable on Whatsapp, email, and Instagram.
Thanks for reading!
If you are just arriving on this blog, I have a few suggestions of my favorite stories that you should start with. In no particular order:
Ton Sai Beach
Nat and I are in Thakhek in the Khammouane Province of Southern Laos, living on a campground in the dry karstland here. It’s a barren desert landscape peppered by stunted rock mountains covered in thorny shrubs. It’s beautiful in its own harsh way.
We’re camped along with about fifty to a hundred other rock climbers from all over the world. The climbing scene here is absolutely amazing.
The other thing I’m doing is all the email-writing and resume-tweaking and video-meeting that comes with the job search. It’s a grind but it’s also pretty fun piecing together a whole life from a starting screen in Laos.
For some part of the week when we are resting our tendons and finger-skin, we ride our 125cc semi-automatic Honda motorbike half an hour into the dusty town of Thakhek. We usually stay in the same place in town- a sparse wooden room with a broad patio raised above a courtyard where motorcyclists come and go on the “Thakhek Loop.”
For at least a few days out of the week, I take meetings on our porch in the very early morning darkness. I wake up at 4 or 5 am and throw on my button-down shirt (no pants needed). I make some coffee and stack my computer up on an upturned trash can and put on a smile for each meeting. It’s pretty fun to meet all sorts of people and learn about different jobs. The worst part is the weird hours.
Then Nat & I cook breakfast in our outdoor kitchen- kale & onion stir fried in oyster sauce over rice with a few fried eggs, topped with dill and red pepper… YUM. Then we post up at a coffeeshop and work all day. Connect with people, write emails, research the energy industry, etc.
Like I said, climbing and searching for jobs. Most days, we wake up in our tent to the sound of birds chirping as the sun comes out. I use a fallen tree to walk across the lazy little creek between my tent and the camp restaurant. We all eat breakfast together and decide where to go, which routes to set our wills against that day.
Then we turn on the stoke and climb hard through the middle part of the day. The vibe at the crag usually varies from jovial and merry to intense & focused.
At night it’s festive with “Beerlao” flowing, music, board games, and maybe a big bonfire in one of the many caves of the valley. Nobody really comes up this remote valley to bother us. Nobody at camp quite knows what day it is, or what’s going on in the news.
By 10 pm the camp is silent as everyone hits their tents to do it all again at the break of dawn.
We met Jordan, Kat, Tori and Chris in Hanoi right before Christmas. Old Quarter Hanoi is a bustling, crazy, chaotic place filled with delicious food and motorbikes. We enjoyed the city for a day or two then bussed to Cat Ba Island. We climbed a gorgeous 4-pitch out there called “Screw Loose” on Christmas day. I sang carols as we had a slow, dark, rappel.
The group of us returned to Hanoi and met with Andrew, Bill, Geoff, Pat, and Matt G for the new year holiday in Hanoi. We teared it up in Hanoi and then bussed over to Ha Long to enjoy the islands out there (it was overcast and spitting rain), then traveled to Tam Coc.
In Tam Coc we rented six motorbikes and spent three days exploring the interior of Vietnam by scooter. We traveled by bike to Vuon Quoc national forest, an area of dense, old preserved jungle in the interior of Vietnam, and hiked into the jungle. We did some cave exploring in that jungle- a fun and scary experience that imbibed that exhilarating feeling of total exploration.
In a few days, our friends departed from Tam Coc back to Hanoi to catch their flight, leaving Nat and I back to ourselves. Suddenly, everything felt very quiet- like the moment after a storm finally stops battering the outside of your house.
We walked from our hotel to the bus station as twilight gathered over the flooded rice paddies of Tam Coc. It felt quiet and clear and I had the feeling of some big inflection point.
It was 2023 and all our big plans had come and gone. The next year would be totally unpredictable.
We had just a week left on our Vietnam visa, so we wanted to see the country before retiring to our roots.
We went from Tam Coc by nightbus 14 hours to Hoi An. Hoi An was an awesome, super old city on the coast of Vietnam. We spent two days in Hoi An and then motorbiked up to Hue where I thought we might be able to catch a ride into Laos. Hue was an amazing town, a bit bigger and less touristy than Hoi An. Hue was probably my favorite city in Vietnam that we saw.
Then we caught a ride to Laos! We went first to Savanakhet and then caught a connection to Thakhek in a big marathon day of travel. I kept thinking that this would be the last long day of traveling for a long time- we are planning to stay put in Thakhek for a while.
After spending a few days camping at the Green Climbers Hotel, we went into Thakhek to find a room and a scooter to rent.
Thakhek is a sleepy, non-touristic town on the east bank of the Mekong River in the south of this small, landlocked, communist nation. Its cheaper than Krabi or Hanoi, and it doesn’t really have that much going on, to be honest.
For us, its got everything we need. Khao Piak is a spicy chicken noodle soup dish that goes for 90 cents, and you can get classic Thai style Pad Krapow for just a dollar. And because Laos steals food culture from both Thailand AND Vietnam we also have a lock on the Banh Mi (or Paté as they call it here).
And of course- the climbing.
Just twenty minutes by motorbike east of the town are some pretty massive limestone karst formations in a remote, beautiful setting. The community there is awesome- at any given time there might be 50-100 climbers from all over the world camped beneath those karsts. We’ve met some amazing people out there and we have a great community.
My goals for the next few months are to send 5.12 and find a job!
The climber’s camp at Thakhek is awesome. It’s called Green Climbers Home, and it’s situated in the desert karsts outside of Thakhek. There’s nothing out here.
There’s people out here. This is home to like 50 or 100 climbers of all backgrounds from all over the world. What a cool place! Glad I came the long route.
Well shit I didn’t make it to Hanoi! My Vietnam visa didn’t come through in time so I was not permitted on the flight to Bangkok.
Nat went on to North Vietnam while I sat on a bench at the Bangkok airport and thought. I could either wait in Bangkok for my visa to come through, or I could travel slowly by land and count on it coming through before I got to the Vietnam border.
When presented with two choices like this- with one jam packed full of uncertainty and the other pretty much normal-best go with the higher uncertainty option as a rule for this sort of trip.
So here I am in Nakhon Phanom, far in the east of Thailand on the border with Laos. My plan is to cross into Laos tomorrow, spend a few days in Thakhek meeting with some friends in the climbing camp here, and then move onto Nam when my visa comes.
Leaving Thailand this week after three months of living in Krabi with Natalie. It’s a bit sad, but all I can really feel is gratitude, and love. Gratitude for this country and for the people of Krabi. Love for the person who made life here filled with meaning. On to the next adventure!
Had an awesome week with Conor & Sara. They are off, back to the USA, and Nat and I are back to our roots. Eating healthy, climbing, and saving money…
Conor & Sara arrive tomorrow! Very psyched to see our friends out here, as it has just been me and Nat in Thailand for a long time now. We can’t wait to show them all our favorite spots, our favorite foods, the night market… but we have big plans! We’ll spend a few days climbing on Tonsai and hopefully climb that legendary multipitch of Tonsai called Humanality. Then we have a sailboat rental on the Andaman Sea for a week! There are infinite paradisical islands dotting the Andam sea and we will have it all to ourselves…
Its been a while since I wrote in this updates section, but nothing much has been happening! Yesterday, I woke up with the sun and made breakfast- kale stir fried in oyster sauce over rice with a fresh duck egg, and coffee with sweet coconut milk. I sent a few emails, looked for jobs, and read the news as the sun rose. I stretched and then scootered with Nat to the crag- 10 min away. I tried hard and sent a 6c+ called Wasabi that I had been working on for a day or two. There was a good crew at North Wall- Andy and Steve, Leif and Stan and Mike. David and Dahling were bolting nearby.
We had a late lunch of pad kaprao, then yoga class in the evening. Arisa’s class is so amazing; its keeping me super flexible for climbing. The most OG goddam tasty pad thai on the planet for dinner. I read my book at night- Rise & Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Bed by 10. Repeat. Life is good!
We have an apartment in Ao Nam Mai (6500 baht/mo), a scooter (3000 baht/mo), and our climbing gear (free). The ladies next door are whipping up cashew chicken stir fried in red curry over rice for 50 baht. We are climbing and we are eating and we are writing sometimes and also we’re watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended cut). Life is simple. Life is good.
Just spent a few days in Bangkok… not enough time. I’d love to come back to this city and work for a while or live here; it just seems so full of energy.
Taking a 12-hour overnight bus from Bangkok down to Krabi today.
We arrived in Bangkok just a few days ago. I think I’m having some culture shock from leaving India. I’m surprised at how modern and organized Bangkok feels; the experience of coming here really crystallizes how truly strange the nation of India is.
Cheap beer, cheap coffee, sidewalks, organized streets, way fewer panhandlers… I can’t stop comparing India to Thailand right now after spending 5 months on the subcontinent. India is just so weird man. Loving the culture in Thailand so far!
We been enjoying the food and checking out the nightlife. Planning on heading south down to Tonsai Beach soon to start rock climbing.
The Indian Subcontinent
Srinagar is so damn cool. I know I say this for every place, so it must lose some meaning by now I guess. But truly I don’t think there is another place in the world like Srinagar. Fiercely proud people, tons of different cultures all smashed together, Indian soldiers on every street corner, good meat-based food, incredibly beautiful valley, and KIND PEOPLE. I love the people I’ve met here- all have been so friendly and kind and they really love their home with a ferocious intensity. Sidenote- don’t casually refer to Kashmir as India… or to the locals as Indians…
We met up with a Kashmiri guy that we met in HP and he drove Nat and I to a place called Pahalgam up in the mountains. We met up with his friends and hung out enjoying the majesty of the Kashmiri mountainside. Nat was sick from Turbomode so I spent the day riding around on this guy I met’s motorbike and seeing the city.
Long journey to Thailand starts tomorrow. Bus to Jammu, overnight train to Delhi, flight from Delhi to Bangkok. Let’s go…
That journey was another doozy. Six to eight hours on our bike, over Chang La pass, the second highest motorable pass on the planet. The land north of the Ladakh Range of mountains was austere, frigid, and highly militarized. I got sick in Merak, probably from Turbomode Exertion.
On this one, the journey turned out to be the destination. At least this time no spills on the bike, despite rough high mountain roads.
Tomorrow we are taking an overnight bus from Leh to Srinagar and arriving at 4 am. I love arriving in the nighttime to a unfamiliar city rife with separatist conflict…
Turbomode it is. With just one day of rest after climbing Kang Yatse we will be renting a motorcycle tomorrow and riding 112 miles over the Ladakh Range of the Himalayas to Pangong Lake on the Indochinese border.
I thought we’d take a good long break from motorcycling after Malana, and I thought we’d take a lot of rest after climbing Kang Yatse, but desperate times call for desperate measures- this is Turbomode.
All of a sudden we feel like our September 16th flight to Bangkok is coming up so fast on us. We still want to go to Pangong Lake here in Ladakh and see Srinagar, Kashmir. Then we have to make it down to Delhi for our flight out of India.
So we either cut one of these activities out (Pangong or Kashmir) or go what nat and I have been referring to as “Turbomode” and do it all at high speed.
We climbed a 6,200 ft mountain called Kang Yatse 2 in the Markha Valley of the Zanskar Range of Tibet. This was a challenging feat and I feel very proud. I also feel like I’ve leveled up my mountaineering on this adventure, as it was about 500 meters of pure snow and ice climbing on a steep grade with crampons and axe.
We have been moving fast and hard and I’m feeling so beat down. No time to write…
Well of course we hitchhiked! I think any time I am considering two options, one of them being predictable and reliable, one of them being an unpredictable and adventurous, I will pretty much always go with the option rife with potential conflict and adventure. Sometimes it takes me a few days to realize such a thing, and then the realization comes very quickly like, “of course!” Of course we hitchhiked.
It was a fucking brutal adventure though. Two different rides and in the end, about twenty-five hours in the ramped cockpit of a long-haul Indian truck with two great guys we met on the road. I think this will become a blog post too but we are just moving too fast for me to be able to write consistently.
Leh is really awesome- high desert village of Tibetan and Buddhist culture in the jaw-dropping Indus Valley.
We did an epic motorcycle adventure up the Malana Valley to Malana village. This was a real tumultuous ride but truly an incredible experience.
I had to write about this one; see the blog post linked HERE.
We’re gonna head up to Leh, Ladakh pretty soon. We’re debating whether to take a bus (boring) or try and hitchhike. Its a 260 mile road through one of the most remote places on the planet, but my buddy Jonas from Pokhara mentioned he had hitchhiked it before, hence the scheming.
Manali is a very nice, peaceful mountain city up in the Kullu Valley here. It is hemmed in by the big green foothills of the Himalayas on all sides, with the Beas river cutting down right through the city. Big destination for Indian tourists. The Indian tourists pretty much all stay down in “New Manali” which is all newer construction built in the last couple decades to accommodate the huge influx of new tourists into this place. “Old Manali” is where Nat and I are staying, it is a little more quaint and quiet- old buildings where the city used to be. Now all is tourism; but still pretty nice.
We’re just relaxing here and moving slowly. Been hiking, walking in the woods, writing, stuff like that. No rush to get up to Ladakh. Vaguely planning a motorcycle trip soon.
Nat landed successfully and we’ve been exploring the chaos of New Delhi. Its such a pleasure to have a companion on this journey now; it really re-orients my entire life and freshens everything up. And of course Nat is an amazing travel companion.
This afternoon, we are catching an overnight bus to Manali, first stop on our journey up to Ladakh. I can’t wait to get out of the smoggy humidity of Delhi and back up to those beautiful Himalayas. I hope the monsoons and roads cooperate!
Delhi is a challenge… as always! But Nat arrives tomorrow! Can’t wait.
Boudha Stupa is amazing! Definitely re-oriented my whole idea of Kathmandu. Its a super livable little neighborhood filled with Tibetans and Buddhist monks west of Kathmandu. Headed to India today to meet Nat on the fifth!
Headed to Kathmandu for my flight back on India on the third. Staying in the Tibetan neighborhood of Boudha Stupa.
Just read the post. “Life in Pokhara”
Back in Pokhara after spending the week in Chapakot, Syangja doing maintenance work on biogas reactors for some of the small farms out there. This was a super cool experience! Check out my new post for the full story. On Sunday I start teaching English with the NGO Priya Life in Similduda, just outside of Pokhara. Pokhara is pretty much dead these days…
Still in Pokhara. Last week, I moved from my bustling hostel on the lake to a more secluded lodge up in the hills just below a monastery. Its still not too far from town, just about 350 stone steps up the steep mountain from the main street. Being more in the jungle, I have become pretty accustomed to the crawlies. There are Huntsman Spiders in this hotel; these are the largest spiders in the world. There’s also a troupe of monkeys which rolls through every now and then and bangs on the roof and causes general havoc.
I’ve taken the opportunity of the Pokhara off-season and the monsoons that roll through every day to focus on some learning goals that i had for this trip. Been spending a lot of time writing, reading, meditating, and learning Python. This Sunday, I will travel with an NGO called Atmosfair to Syanji to evaluate repairs on biogas reactors in the rural villages there. I am also planning on teaching in Similduda with an NGO called Priya Life starting in July.
Returned safely from Lower Annapurna. Offseason trekking in the Himalayas means no crowds, rain, fog, leeches, and crisp clean damp air. We had an amazing time checking out the jungly lower Annapurna area with all its waterfalls and lush rainforest foliage. The rainy season is coming on heavy now in Pokhara. I believe I will stay put in Pokhara for a little while preparing for Vipassana on July 1.
Vignesh and Swathi have arrived safely in Pokhara from Chennai. I booked a jeep and some permits to take us into the lower Annapurna Conservation Area for trekking. We will first walk to Ghorepani up to the Poon Hill viewpoint, then to Ghandruk.
I arrived back in Pokhara from Mustang by bike yesterday. All went well with no issues. It was a very difficult trip with over 130 miles of biking over 5 days. It was so steep in many places I felt like dying. I don’t think that a mountain-bike is necessarily the smartest way to tour the Himalayas but I’m quite glad that I did it, especially because it offered such an intimate look at the Nepal countryside as I biked 100 miles across Nepal back from Mustang to Pokhara. There was no way to take a normal road bike on this trip as many of the roads were dirt and large rocks. See the blog post about this adventure.
I’ll relax and let my body recover until Wednesday when my good friend Vignesh and his sister arrive in Pokhara. I believe we will go on a trekking adventure to Poon Hill.
I was working quietly in the yard this morning when 4 Nepali guys rolled into the hostel on their mud splattered mountain bikes with huge grins on their faces. They had rode 180 km from the Mustang Valley to Pokhara in the past two days. I immediately realized this is something I must do. So over the next two days I will plan this trip including haggling a bike, getting permits, getting a bus ticket, finding a light backpack, getting maps, etc. And then on Tuesday I will set off to Jomsom for a mountain biking adventure in the Mustang Valley.
Have been spending some quality relaxation time in Pokhara for the past two weeks. I’m staying at a hostel for 359 rupees/night just outside of town with a big contingent of Indians working remote. This is quite alright with me as Indians are some of my favorite people and I’m happy to have a more calm environment on which to work on my writing and do some jobs research. I usually spend my mornings drinking coffee and working in the backyard of the hostel. Then I will go and get some Dal Bhat at my usual cafe for lunch. There is a small group of travelers from all over the world there usually hanging and playing cards. Importantly, there are a few good chess players in that group which I have been sorely needing to find. In the afternoon, I’ll usually find some interesting thing to do around Pokhara like yoga, guided meditation, Himalayan sound healing, biking in the hills, hiking, riding around Pokhara, or maybe just writing some more at a cafe. I feel very content and relaxed here. At some point the mountains will come calling again.
We emerged from the Langtang Valley in the first week of May after a truly incredible 10 days or so trekking. Check out my blog post linked above for the full story on that one. Ben, Nick and Jordan headed home to USA and I took a harrowing 9 hour bus ride over to Pokhara.
Pokhara is a cool city from what I can tell so far, and I imagine that I will stay here for a few weeks. It is the second most populous city in Nepal (after Kathmandu) and the base base camp for trekkers seeking all types of destinations in the Himalayas. There is an old, authentic part of the city as well as a touristy “Lakeside” Pokhara which has tons of awesome restaurants, coffee shops, bars, adventure sports shops, massage parlors, yoga and meditation gurus and all sorts of crazy stuff mostly geared to tourists. It feels like a really comfortable place to stay after being in Rajasthan, Kerala, and the Langtang valley without much access to the classic comforts of the western world like coffee and beer.
There are so many things I want to do here but I’m definitely just trying to take it slow. I need to recharge my batteries after the past month and a half moving quickly on the road. My hostel here is out of town, on this quiet part of the lakeshore with rice paddies and grazing lands. I’ve been doing yoga and guided meditations in the mornings and then working on writing in the afternoon. Its quite nice sitting on the back deck of my hostel every afternoon as the thunderstorms roll in. I can see horses and bison grazing on the pastures, big eagles fighting over prey, and the lake and mountains beyond. It is very peaceful.
After some weeks here I think I will plan another expedition the mountains… but we shall see.
I landed in Kathmandu yesterday and met up with Nick, Ben, & Jordan! So incredibly good to see some friendly faces after being about a month solo on the road. Tomorrow, we will start a two-week trek in the Langtang valley of the Himalayas. We will probably try our axes on a few big peaks out there in the vicinity of Kyanjin Gompa. I don’t imagine having service in the Himalayas so I’ll probably be radio silent at least until May 6.
Took a train from Aleppey to Varkala yesterday. I’ll post up at the Lost Hostel here until I train back up to Kochi on Saturday to catch my flight to Nepal. This is a picturesque expat town which sits on a cliff overlooking a beautiful beach.
Took a packed bus from Kochi to Aleppey/Alappuzha yesterday. Packed in like sardines and sweating my ass off but hey I made it for only like 50 rupees. Aleppey seems to be a nice, quiet, beach town with good access to the backwaters. After a horrible, sleepless last night on the couch in Zostel Kochin I got a personal room right on the beach for 800 rupees. Need some regeneration.
Arrived in Cochin/Kochi last night. This city is really cool- kind of like a bayou style swampy backwater tropical spot. It’s an old Portuguese trading fort. Already I can tell the pace is a lot slower and more laid back than in Northern India. I’m less stressed walking around here than in any city in Rajasthan. I’ll spend the next week slowly moving south down the coast before I have to catch my flight to Nepal on the 25th.
Sick as a dog. Had to skip the Taj Mahal to stay near a bathroom. Flying from New Delhi to Kochi, Kerala today. Excited to get out of the blistering heat of the desert into the muggy humidity of the South Indian swamps.
In Rajasthan! Planning on Bikaner > Koriya > Jaisalmer > Jodhpur > Ranakpur > Udaipur > Pushkar > Jaipur > Agra. Its hot as hell and not many tourists here.
Landed in New Delhi and just getting oriented. Had a tumultuous first 24 hours! I wrote a little bit about my experience landing in New Delhi in the middle of the night. I’ll spend the next two weeks traveling through Rajasthan.
All gear is fit up and ready to go. Wrote two technical posts on gear preparations and first-aid preparations.
“Be still the unimaginable lodge
For solitary thinkings; such as dodge
Conception to the very bourne of heaven,
Then leave the naked brain: be still the leaven
That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
Gives it a touch ethereal- a new birth:
Be still a symbol of immensity;
a firmament reflected in a sea;
an element filling the space between;