Tag Archives: holiday

No sex tourists please, it’s Kathman-DO!

22 Feb


budah stupah
If you’d told me when I was in my  20s that one day I’d be sat in an organic café in Kathmandu wearing a woolly sweater and eating a bowl of lentil soup I probably would have spat at you. Yet hilariously enough that was exactly the situation I found myself in just a week ago.

Unless you’re a fan of tiny ceremonial orange trees and fireworks, getting out of Hong Kong for Chinese New Year is a smart move. Many ex-pats either plump for the wintry ski-resorts of northern Japan or the sub-tropical sex tourist hot spots of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but few try Nepal. It’s a shame.

Despite my dhal-a-geddon in the organic café, Nepal was a bit of a bloody revelation actually. I’m no hardcore trecker and harbour something between sneery contempt and point blank hatred for the those who elect to spend two weeks of their hard-earned annual leave getting up at 5am every day, turning their pants inside out for the fifth time and making small talk with complete strangers whilst battling frost bite and intense boredom. In case you were wondering.

himalayas

No, the plan for me was hatched over a particularly fine Nepalese curry on Staunton Street and involved staying at a decent hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu – one with Wi-Fi and no blackouts – and making the odd day trip out and about. It worked a treat.  Nepal is sandwiched in between China and India and its links to the UK go back to Raj days and the service of its legendary Gurkha soldiers in the British military. Given Britain’s first mover advantage in the colonial stakes, English speakers won’t feel as out of place here as mainland Chinese tourists obviously were when spotted out and about.

Kathmandu now has Wi-Fi, Angry Bird hats for sale and Sky Sports in bars and bloody motor bikes EVERYWHERE but for all that it doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 50 years. Cows wander aimlessly down potholed, dirt track roads; sinister looking men sit in shop doorways by huge butchered slabs of dead buffalo; even more sinister looking men sidle up offering hashish; horns honk ENDLESSLY; and just when it’s getting a bit too much a glorious waft of sweet perfumed incense from a nearby shop makes it all better.

There are a LOT of temples. There are views only an hour’s drive away of the Himalayas that took the breath away even of a cynical old bastard like me. There are enterprising dealers who offer marijuana, then up it to opium and on one occasion trump the lot by touting “something”. Something? Seriously, you have “something” to sell? Alright then, I’ll take three bags…kathmandu durbar

Kathmandu is dirty, noisy and crowded, but for a few days away in February you could do a lot worse. There are great curries on tap, especially good if you’re a vegetable-arian, cheap beer, brilliantly friendly locals and, obviously, great hikes. The country’s still recovering from civil war and coping with a political system which is doing its best to run it into the ground, so do your bit and spend your Honky dollar there next CNY.

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Yokoso Japan! Come ye and stay for a while … but not too long

12 Oct

kinkakuji kyotoJust come back from a glorious ten days in Japan. Ahh, Nihhon – every time I go back I wonder why I ever left. And then right at the end of the holiday, when all my endorphins have withered and died, when my belly simply cannot stomach another grilled chicken ovary on a stick and my liver is cowering at the thought of more Asahi. Then I remember why.

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the place, it’s just that the rabu rabu, when it’s good, is so bloody good, and the bad, well is so bad it just gets pushed to the darkest recesses of my mind as if it never happened. If you haven’t been yet I’d urge you to go, especially if you live in Asia. It’s so bloody close but literally unlike anything on Earth.

All the rumours are true: neon-infused Blade Runner-style city scapes; beautiful snow-capped mountains; peerless temples and hill-top shrines … child porn that would make Jimmy Savile blush. It’s all here. It’s all fighting for space and vying for your attention in the most utterly polite way possible. Like the people who inhabit this archipelago, bad manners is not an option. Learn just a smattering of traveller’s Japanese and you’ll be set – no shrugged shoulders and blank Parisian stares here – and the food has enough variety and quality to keep you happy for at least a fortnight, never eating the same dish twice.

You probably don’t want to hear about how much fun we had though, so I’ll tell you about the darkness. The politeness gets too much after a while, inevitably. Japan’s a walled garden, a playground for the foreigner, but also eventually a bit of a prison. It locks you into the same endless cycle of polite conversations with locals who really should know you better by now – complimenting you on use of chopsticks, linguistic dexterity or just being tall as if the past three years never even happened.

Its otherness, its difference, becomes intensely frustrating. “Why can’t I use my credit card anywhere? Why does it take foreign films two months longer to get here than anywhere else? Why do all the girls have a borderline personality disorder and squeak like a child’s toys when you try to get intimate? And why the hell can’t I find decent CHEESE anywhere!?” Sometimes you just want a beer in a bar without having to order food, a cigarette in the street without having to find the nearest designated smoking area, or a shit without having to operate a Buck Rogers toilet from the future.

That’s basically why I couldn’t live there any longer. That and the child maintenance payments. But post-tsunami Japan needs all the help it can get, and that’s certainly not going to come from Chinese tourists any time soon. So get your collective fingers out and book a trip tomorrow. The soaring highs and the crushing lows are waiting just around the corner…