Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Travel Plans

Kathmandu 2006
We're planning a trip to Asia this fall, something we've been talking about for a few years. Practically speaking, that means breaking my five years of (almost) no flying. (I did end up doing a few short flights between islands in the Caribbean) I feel a little guilty about it, but unless you're going to live completely off the grid, living in our current "civilization" is never going to be "pure". Overall, I think my footprint is still smaller than most.

They say planning is half the fun. I'm not sure of the exact proportions but planning and anticipating are a big part of travel. Of course, the planning isn't without it's stresses - there are a lot of moving parts in a trip like this! Try booking a train in India from Canada - I ended up doing it through an Australian company!

We knew we wanted to go trekking on the Himalayas and hopefully do some scuba diving somewhere but other than that we didn't have definite goals. I was interested in visiting Darjeeling (of tea fame) and that was near Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 eight thousand meter peaks that we haven't visited.

At first I was thinking of several shorter treks of maybe a week or so, but the classic treks are all quite long. We decided to do one longer trek instead - the Kanchenjunga trek - which takes three to four weeks. I thought that would be out of Darjeeling but it turns out it's actually in eastern Nepal. (Darjeeling is in India, and Kanchenjunga is on the border between India and Nepal.) So we would start in Kathmandu, a place we know and love (despite its many flaws) from previous Himalayan climbing expeditions.

The next question was how to get there? My preference was to fly west, over the Pacific (instead of east over the Atlantic and via Europe) and to avoid going through the US and their hyperactive homeland security theatre. That meant something out of Vancouver. I also wanted a direct flight. The main option that fit all that was Hong Kong.

Both Cathay Pacific and Air Canada fly direct from Vancouver to Hong Kong. My initial preference was Cathay since they are a higher rated airline and we've had good experiences with other top Asian airlines like Singapore and Thai. Air Canada had a little better timetable (shorter layover in Vancouver and arriving in HK earlier in the evening) but what made the choice for us was that we could get Premium Economy on Air Canada for a reasonable amount whereas On Cathay it was very expensive. Premium has slightly more seat room (8 across instead of 9) but the big advantage to us was that Shelley could have her preferred aisle seat and I could have my preferred window seat since the premium seats are 2-4-2 (instead of 3-3-3).

In the past we would have connected straight through to Kathmandu but that led to marathon trips. (My last trip to Kathmandu in 2006 was 43 continuous hours in planes and airports!) Being older and either softer or smarter, we plan to stop for a few days in Hong Kong. (Total time from Saskatoon is about 20 hours with a single four hour layover in Vancouver.) I'd never really thought about visiting Hong Kong. I'm not a huge fan of big cities. But it is a famous place with a unique history and once I got used to the idea it seemed like a good addition to the trip.

enroute to Cho Oyu in 2006
After Hong Kong we'll fly to Kathmandu. In my mind the Himalaya make Nepal a "big" country, but in reality it's quite small (relative to Canada at least). It's roughly 200 km north-south and 800 km east-west. To put that in perspective it's roughly from Saskatoon to Regina north-south, and from there to the BC border east-west - a boring days drive. But trekking on foot in huge mountains is a far cry from driving prairie roads. Our three week trek will span just a small portion of the north east corner of Nepal. For an idea of what the trek is like check out this amateur video (30 min), these trek notes, or this GPS map track.

After the trek, instead of returning to Kathmandu we'll go by road across the border into India and to Darjeeling. Then from near Darjeeling we'll take the train to Calcutta (aka Kolkata) and then fly to Kuala Lumpur. After a few days there we'll take another train to Singapore. No doubt we'll visit the world class zoo and stop at the Raffles hotel for a Singapore Sling at its 1915 birthplace.

Finally, we wanted to get in some diving. There are lots of possible places. Thailand was close and easy, but we've been there before. We considered the Philippines, especially when we were looking at flights via Manilla. In the end we decided to go to Raja Ampat. It’s remote, hard to get to, and expensive, but it’s also one of the best and most pristine places in the world to dive. It’s not easy to book at these remote spots so I was happy to find an agent - Faces of the Sea - who are actually in Edmonton! With their help we settled on Raja 4 Divers.

After the diving we head back to Hong Kong and then home via Vancouver. In total we'll be travelling almost 10 weeks. We're looking forward to it. Stay tuned for photos and stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment