Tag Archives: Trekking

This Week’s Travel Favorites

I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, writing and pondering about travel.  You could say it’s a wee bit of an obsession.  Luckily, my wanderlust is very satisfactorily satiated at my jobs (I work as a magazine writer and television show producer and host here in Kathmandu, Nepal).  I’ve decided to start blogging about and paying hommage to travel “favorites” each week.  These “favorites could be anything from a travel personality, to a travel related book, or travel gear that has given me recent inspiration.

Here is this week’s round up of Travel Favorites:

Travel With Rick Steves Podcasts

When I was at home in Portland, Oregon, packing for Kathmandu, I wavered on whether or not to bring my iPhone.  I decided to throw it in my bag if for nothing else, just to use as a music player.  I am SO happy that I decided to bring it.  Once I arrived in Kathmandu, a friend swiftly “unlocked” it for $10 and now I can use a local SIM card.  I started to peruse the selection of podcasts on my iTunes and stumbled upon the Travel With Rick Steves selection.  I downloaded about 100 episodes and have been exceedingly pleased with the quality material I’ve been listening to every day.

Rick Steves is a famous travel guidebook writer who especially focuses on Europe.  I’ve never read his guidebooks, but his podcasts are excellent.  He conducts a wonderful interview that always leaves me feeling inspired to boldly continue on with my world travels.  Steves’ guests are well-chosen and eloquent.  As a traveler, I value the information and perspective I’ve found in the podcasts and as a writer, I’m always interested in his interview style and the questions he asks.  Travel With Rick Steves is the perfect show to tune in to when going on a long walk, sitting at home or on an airplane.

EatingAsia Food Blog

Pho Ingredients (Photo by katclay-flickr)

I literally salivate over this fantastic Asia food and photography blog created by photographer David Hagerman and food writer Robyn Eckhardt.  The writing is concise and to the point and makes you feel as though you are sitting next to David and Robyn as they sip teas in Turkey or eat grilled fish in Luang Prabang, Laos.  EatingAsia is the perfect fusion of travel and food, two things that I think go together marvelously.  Trying new foods and local cuisines when traveling is, I think, one of the greatest pleasures of being on the road.  I’m guessing David and Robyn of EatingAsia would agree with me on this one. In addition to the excellent stories and descriptions of their travels, the photos are to die for.  The colors, the textures and the perfect composition makes me want to follow David Hagerman around and just watch him at work.  Those lucky enough to live in or travel through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, actually can do this because David offers food photography walks through the city. (You can follow Robyn Eckhardt on Twitter: @EatingAsia)

Keen Shoes

I would like to personally thank Keen for their excellent quality and versatile shoes.  I bought a pair of Keens three years ago at REI and virtually forgot about then since I returned from my one year Asia trip.  When pairing down my clothes for my current trip,  I rediscovered my old Keens at the bottom of a cardboard box.  I brought them along with me on this trip and recommend them to everyone.  They are not the exact model pictured here (because I bought mine three years ago), but they are similar.  The shoes are black and slip-on with a velcro strap across the top.  They are versatile enough to be worn with nice clothes to work, but can also be work on hikes. The shoes stood up to the test of hiking in rural Nepal in the monsoon this past weekend.  I was on an assignment in Balthali village, which is about 30 kilometers outside of Kathmandu, just beyond the valley rim.  Part of my assignment was to investigate some of the hikes in the area.  The only shoes I brought were my Keens and they gave an A+ performance up muddy, monsoon ruined hills, down slippery rocks, through rivers and across rice paddies.  I returned to the lodge I was staying at with no blisters and perhaps most surprising, with completely dry feet.

How To: Remove Leeches On Trek

Situation: It’s wet.  A jacket invading, perpetual dampness, soggy kind of wet.  And you’re on trek.  The lush green hills rise around you.  Birds screech in the trees, busting with green leaves and bright flowers.  Maybe it’s raining or maybe the downpour just ended.  You stop for a drink of water, perching on a rock.  After a few swigs, you look down at your ankle and notice a tiny black, raised blob.

“What the?…” you think to yourself.

Upon further investigation, you realize what it is…  A leech.  A slimy, creepy, blood-sucking leech.  You quickly peel off your socks and find a few, maybe a dozen more leeches that have somehow invaded your shoes and your socks.  A few have even found refuge in your toes.  Ugh.

This situation has become a  reality for scores of trekkers in Asia.  Whether you’re hiking in the Himalayas, in Northern Laos, or in the steamy Malaysian jungle, leeches will be there, especially if the environment is wet.  The little black blobs are the bane of many trekker’s existence.  Although their bite is not painful, the would looks rather ghastly because of the stream of blood that flows from the spot.  There are some simple preventative methods to take before your trek to avoid leeches and, there are a few methods to keep in mind when removing a leech on trek.

What Are Leeches?

Leeches vary in size, depending on the environment.  They can be found on land, in fresh water and in salt water.  Many leeches found on treks in Asia are around 0.5-3 inches and very thin.  They move like a slinky going down stairs: flipping one side over the other in a continual motion.  Although the little suckers are an annoyance to hikers and trekkers, leeches were (and still are in some places) used in medicine for bloodletting.

Leeches sense heat and motion in their environment.  Whether it’s a dog, cow or human that moves through the woods, leeches will likely sense the heat and quickly slinky over to the fresh blood source.  When trekking in a wet environment, leeches sometimes fall from trees, but most often attach to their subject from the ground.  This means that the leech will attach to the shoe, move up to the sock area and burrow down from there.

Leech Bites

Once a leech bites and begins engorging itself in blood, it’s very difficult to remove them properly.  When a leech bites, the subject will likely feel nothing: not pinch, no pain and no aches.  After a bite, the leech will feed off blood until it is totally full, and then it simply drops off.

The tell-tale sign of a leech bite is a large bloody spot on the socks or shoes.  Blood will continue to flow from the bite often for hours after the animal drops off because of the anticoagulant they secrete from their mouth parts.  The anticoagulant allows for the free flow of blood from your body to theirs.  This is why, even after you remove the leech or they drop off, the blood continues to seep out.

Prevention

There are several measures you can take to prevent leeches from biting you in the first place.  These measures take some a bit more time and planning than simply peeling the suckers off after they’ve bitten.

Choice 1: Anti-Leech Socks

Casual hikers probably won’t need these, but the more hardcore mountain trekkers might want to consider these anti-leech socks.  This particular brand of socks cover the foot to the upper knee and are worn underneath the boot and over the normal sock.  It’s very difficult for the leeches to penetrate these socks because they are long.  This particular sock brand will set you back $40, but they are very durable and will come in handy for long, deep-jungle treks, or treks during monsoon season.

Choice 2: Soak Socks in Salt Water

This option is good for a while, but if you will be trekking through streams or other very wet areas, you probably won’t stay leech free for long.  Soaking your socks in salt water and then drying them is a better option when you are trekking in dry weather.

Choice 3: Insecticide

Too much Deet is not a great idea, but applying some strong insecticide around the ankles, on the socks and even on top of the shoes is a good way to ward off leeches.  Make sure to reapply the insecticide every few hours.

More Resources for Anti-Leech Measures: http://www.mysabah.com/wordpress/?p=177

Trekking in Northern Laos

Trek

Trekking routes in Northern Laos remain virtually untouched by tourists.

Traveling in Asian cities is an undeniable thrill. The food, the nightlife, the chaos and the people make wandering through Asia’s big cities like Hanoi and Bangkok an endless maze of discovery. But, for many of us, experiencing the true soul of a country means getting out of the cities and getting into the more rural places. Especially for countries like Thailand and Laos, which house vast hills and deep jungles, experiencing these places means further understanding the country. A fun and exhilarating way to experience the hills, jungles and forests of Asia is to trek through them. Trekking tours are often led by a guide who speaks the local language and can easily set up lodging and meals. While some travelers prefer to trek alone, traveling through rural parts of Asia with a guide is a very good choice. Being able to communicate with other locals through an interpreter makes the experience all the richer.

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have become trekking hot-spots over the past decade. Travelers are drawn to these two Northern Thailand cities because of their easy access to trekking routes and jungle trails. For the truly adventurous who want to surpass Northern Thailand and find a trekking route that is largely untouched by tourists, there is one great option: trekking in Northern Laos.

One of the main starting points for a trek Northern Laos is the city of Phongsali. Phongsali is a tiny town nestled high in the hills near the Chinese border. The town has a distinctly sleepy vibe: there are few cars or motorbikes, dogs wander around the streets and the few restaurants in the town close around 9 pm (a warning to late-night snackers!) The town, due to its proximity to China, is home to many Chinese settlers who came to Northern Laos to start businesses. Chinese snacks and beer have an equal representation to Laos foods in the restaurants.

Getting to Phongsali:

Getting to Phongsali is not easy and is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. The journey entails a 9 hour+ bus ride from Oudomxai, a busting and slightly-mediocre Chinese trading town. The local bus station is close by most of the guesthouses, so catching transport North is easy and cheap. Be aware that if there aren’t enough passengers who buy a ticket, the bus company will simply cancel the route until the next day. This means you should be ready to spend a day or two in Oudomxai.

The bus ride from Oudomxai takes a full day, with several stops included for restroom breaks and food. The road is mostly un-paved, which makes for a very bumpy ride. The roads are very windy, but the scenery is spectacular. The road passes by dozens of tiny traditional Laos villages dotted with small thatched-roof huts. The rest stops are quick, but the small vendors are equipped to satisfy hungry travelers. Most sell packets of sticky rice (white and black), grilled meat (anything from chicken to rat) and soft drinks.

Once you arrive in Phongsali, you’ll need to take a motorbike taxi into town, or else walk with your bags for about 30 minutes.

Arranging the Trek:

There aren’t many tour agencies (maybe one or two) in town, but it’s easy to find them and arrange your trek. Hiring a trekking guide is highly recommended for treks in this area. Most need to be accessed by a boat, which is difficult to figure out without a guide. The guides know the best starting and stopping points for the boat and can arrange for a boat to pick you up and take you back to town after the trek is over. Trekking solo in this region would be extremely difficult and is only recommended for highly experienced trekkers and mountaineers. The trails are often not clear because of the light foot-traffic and getting lost in Northern Laos would be easy, and would likely have disastrous results. You are likely going to be paying about $25 USD per day for a trek in Northern Laos with a trekking guide. This should include transportation, the guide’s services, food along the way and lodging during the trek. It is also highly recommended that before you depart, you leave anything of value with the hotel. Trekking guides in this area have been known to steal money from trekkers’ bags in the middle of the night.

*Travel Tip: Leave your valuables at your hotel before you depart!

The Trek:

Trekking in Northern Laos is sometimes strenuous, but is also an amazing window into the cultures and the hill tribes would call these hills home. Depending on the length of your trek, you will see between five and fifteen different Akha villages. The Akha people, who inhabit the Northern Laos hills, are also spread out between Myanmar, China and Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area).