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Hanging Out In Bishkek

Hanging Out In Bishkek

We ended up spending far more time in Bishkek than we anticipated, which was actually a blessing in disguise as it gave us time to chill out and relax for a few days. Most travellers doing Central Asia overland seem to end up spending a few days here as they wait for visas – Kyrgyzstan is visa free for 90 days for most nationalities so it’s a handy visa stop.

There aren’t heaps of tourist attractions in the city, but there is plenty of good food and coffee to keep you occupied for a few days! Here are a few of our favourites.


Wander down to Ala-Too Square, where you can check out the outside of the Parliament and head to the nearby State History Museum. It’s also worth visiting the corner of Manas and Chuy Streets, where you can see some lovely flower gardens in front of the Philharmonic Hall and see the Bishkek City Hall. If you’re in need of some greenery, head to Panfilov Park or further afield for a day trek in Ala-Archa Gorge.


There’s quite a large expat population in Bishkek so if you’re in need of a break from Central Asia food, this is the place! Some places are pretty pricey, but after 2 months of mutton we thought it was worthwhile. Here are our top picks:

  • Furusato – 132 Bokonbayev St – amazing Japanese food with good value lunch specials
  • Vinoteka – 140A Chuy Ave – a relaxed wine bar serving good Italian food and cheese platters
  • Coffee Relax – 140 Toktogul Street – fresh salads, sandwiches, pastas and desserts that are a bit pricey but very tasty
  • Sierra Cafe – 57 Manas St – there are a few branches of this cafe but this was our favourite. Great coffee and milkshakes.
  • Vanilla Sky Cafe – 147 Moskovskaya Street – fantastic coffee and desserts.


  • Raritet book store near the corner of Chuy and Razzakov Streets doesn’t have a huge range but it is the only English bookstore we could find in Bishkek
  • Supermarket at the corner of Chuy and Manas has a great range if you are self-catering
  • If you’re a fan of wandering through Central Asian markets, head to Osh Bazaar.
  • Get your passport photos done at ProFoto across from Ala-Too Square on Chuy Ave.


Hostels in Bishkek are heinously overpriced. There is an active Couchsurfing community so it is worth seeing if you can find a host. If not, we highly recommend Friends Guesthouse. While it’s not the most central hostel in Bishkek, it is definitely the best value.

US Dollars

If you are heading onwards to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or Iran, you will need to stockpile US dollars. You can withdraw US dollars from a number of ATMs in Bishkek. We used Demir Bank, which lets you take out US$300 per transaction.

Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

Guide To Driving The Pamir Highway

Guide To Driving The Pamir Highway

Driving along the high altitude Pamir Highway in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is an absolute highlight of Central Asia. You climb above 4,000m above sea level during this epic journey, and the scenery is spectacular. There is also plenty of hiking opportunities and friendly locals who open their homes to give you a comfy bed along the way. Here are our tips on how to organise your own unforgettable Pamir Highway trip.

Suggested itinerary

Most people travel the Pamir Highway between Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Many people also make a detour to drive through the stunning Wakhan Valley between Khorog and Murgab in Tajikistan – a side trip that is well worth the extra kilometres.

We spent 12 days driving from Osh to Dushanbe via the Wakhan Valley. This gave us time to do some hiking, and ensured we weren’t driving all day every day. We really enjoyed all of our stops along the way. If you have less time, you could certainly cut out the hiking and the night at Rushan. Here was our itinerary:

  1. Tulparkul (near Sary Moghul)
  2. Karakul
  3. Murgab
  4. Murgab (hiking through Pshart Valley)
  5. Bulunkul
  6. Langar
  7. Langar (pretty disastrous hiking day here!)
  8. Ishakshim
  9. Khorog
  10. Rushan
  11. Kalaikumb
  12. Dushanbe
Bulunkul Tajikistan
Exploring the rather post-apocalyptic town of Bulunkul

Public transport vs hired vehicle

We decided to hire a vehicle and driver as it was super easy, gave us more flexibility with our itinerary and (importantly) gave us more room in the car! The driver also knew the best guesthouses to stop at, and could handle all the bribes along the way (there are a lot). It was also reasonably cheap as we shared the cost between 5 travellers.

Public transport (especially in the Wakhan Valley) can be hard to find. If a shared taxi does ply your route it will usually be completely jam packed with people, and certainly won’t be stopping for you to take photos! However, it seemed fairly easily to find shared taxis between Osh and Murgab, Murgab and Khorog, and Khorog and Dushanbe. Just be prepared for some very long travel days in cramped conditions.

Pshart Valley Tajikistan
A small yurt camp at the beginning of the Pshart Valley

Choosing a tour operator

We booked our trip through Osh Guesthouse in Osh. Our car and driver were fantastic – if you book with Osh Guesthouse be sure to ask for Daniyer (although he doesn’t speak much English). We had a few issues with their calculation of kilometres, but were able to sort this out. While we got a pretty good deal overall, definitely be on your toes if you book with Osh Guesthouse. We have heard terrible stories from other travellers about being waaay overcharged. As with many tour operators, we are sure that Osh Guesthouse takes a very healthy cut of the hire fee. It would be preferable to deal with a driver directly, but realistically you probably need a Russian speaker to help you with this. If you want other options, Biy Ordo and CBT Osh can also book cars and drivers.

There are a huge number of tour operators in Osh, Khorog, Dushanbe and Murgab who can arrange a car and driver for you. Your best bet is to get recommendations from other travellers – they will be able to suggest companies and drivers. Online reviews are handy too, but often your experience will depend on your particular driver and car. You really don’t need to book in advance – we turned up to Osh Guesthouse the day before we wanted to leave and it was fine.

Finding travel buddies

We found our travel buddies on the Caravanistan forum and by checking the noticeboard at our hostel (Biy Ordo). There is also a big noticeboard at Osh Guesthouse with plenty of travellers looking to share rides. We were lucky enough to find a great group of people to travel with. Considering you will be jammed in a small space with these people for over a week, it is definitely worth having a chat and heading out for a drink to check you will actually get along!

How much should it cost?

Expect to pay between US$0.60 and US$0.75 per kilometre for the car, plus US$15 per day for food and accommodation for your driver. This cost includes petrol and bribes (there are plenty paid along the way!), but does not include your food or accommodation. Make sure you budget for a decent tip for your driver at the end (if you are happy with their service) – our group tipped around 10% of the hire fee.

Most guesthouses along the Pamir Highway charge between US$10-$15 per person per night, which includes breakfast and dinner. The meals are huge – we often didn’t even eat lunch!

What to expect

We usually drove for around 3 to 4 hours per day. The roads in Kyrgyzstan are pretty good, but they aren’t great in Tajikistan! The roads are pretty rough, and the journey can be pretty hair-raising for those of us afraid of heights. The guesthouses are quite basic – you will often be sharing your room with the other travellers in your vehicle and sleeping on mats on the floors. Not all guesthouses will have hot water or showers either, so pack a few wet wipes.

What will you do on your trip? Well, we usually went for a walk around the town we were stopped in during the afternoon, before settling in for dinner and tea. Our group played plenty of cards, and even picked up the odd bottle of vodka to make things a little more interesting! We did a day hike through the Pshart Valley with a local guide for $US10 – speak to your driver about doing this trek, he should know where to take you. We also did a disastrous day hike from Langar without a guide – our tip is to stick to the well-known petroglyphs hike or get a guide!

The people and languages you encounter will change dramatically along the journey, along with the weather. It is bloody freezing in the Pamirs so bring plenty of warm clothes. The Wakhan Valley is much lower in altitude so isn’t so chilly. The people along the way were very friendly and welcoming, although in pockets of the Wakhan Valley people were a little pushy trying to sell you things. There aren’t too many other travellers along the way so don’t expect to socialise much, but you will probably run into a few cyclists and motorcyclists.

Wakhan Valley family
Staying with families along the Pamir Highway was one of the highlights of our trip

Is it safe?

If your mothers are anything like ours, they will freak out completely when they realise you’ll be cruising along the Afghan border for part of your trip. But we felt incredibly safe and didn’t see any trouble. Obviously keep an eye on travel warnings, but take them with a grain of salt. For up to date local information, the Caravanistan forums are also very handy.

Wakhan Valley Tajikistan
A view of the Wakhan Valley, with Tajikistan on the left and Afghanistan on the right

Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

FAQ: Tajikistan E-Visa & GBAO Permit

FAQ: Tajikistan E-Visa & GBAO Permit

Getting your Tajikistan visa and GBAO permit is now super easy thanks to the recently launched e-visa system. Here are our answers to a few FAQs about the process.

1. Where do I apply?

Just head to – there is no need to visit a Tajik consulate.

2. Can I apply for my visa and GBAO permit online?

You will need a visa and a GBAO permit to do the wonderful Pamir Highway. You can apply for both of these using the online system.

3. How much does the visa and GBAO permit cost?

The visa costs US$50 and the GBAO permit costs US$20. You pay online using your credit card.

4. How long does the application process take?

Your application will be processed within 2 business days. Our visa and GBAO permit arrived within 24 hours.

5. Do I need exact entry and exit dates?

No. You will be given 90 days to enter, and you can stay for a maximum of 45 days. Although the FAQ page on the Tajikistan e-visa website says you need to enter the GBAO region on the date specified in your e-visa, there isn’t really anywhere to specify this. We entered the day after our visa ‘valid from’ date, and had no problems.

Your visa’s validity dates will look like this:

Valid From               Duration of Stay                   Valid Until

 23/08/16                          45 days maximum                      21/11/16

6. Do I need a colour copy of my e-visa?

No. In our experience black and white copies were acceptable at the border crossing and at check points.

7. Do I need to register with the OVIR?

If you stay in Tajikistan for 30 days or more, you need to register with the OVIR (Department of Visas and Registration). We heard reports of travellers being told they had to register with the OVIR regardless of the length of stay if they had an e-visa. However, this was most likely a scam. You do not need to register with the OVIR if you stay less than 30 days with an e-visa.

8. Can I use the e-visa at land and airport border crossings?


9. What’s the difference between ‘Tourism Sightseeing’ and ‘Tourism Vacation’?

Nothing. Just pick one!

10. What should we say our address in Tajikistan is?

Just pick a hotel in Tajikistan. They don’t appear to check whether you actually have a booking or not.

11. Can we still get a Visa On Arrival?

We understand that you can still get a Visa On Arrival (VOA) at Tajikistan’s international airports. The VOA is a bit cheaper than the e-visa. However, you can’t get a GBAO permit on arrival which means you have to trudge off to a a travel agency or deal with Tajik officials yourself. Most travellers seem to be taking the far more convenient e-visa option.

Trekking to Song Kul in Kyrgyzstan

Trekking to Song Kul in Kyrgyzstan

We just returned from an amazing three-day trek to Song Kul (‘the Last Lake’) in Kyrgyzstan. We are not experienced trekkers, and we do not have our own camping gear, so we decided to do the trek with a guide through CBT Kochkor. Here is a quick run down on how to organise your own Song Kul trekking trip!

Getting to Kochkor

We arranged our Song Kul trek in Kochkor. There are a number of tour operators, guesthouses, and supermarkets here so it’s a great place to organise your trek to Song Kul. Getting to Kochkor is pretty easy:

From Bishkek – catch a mashrutka (200 som) or shared taxi (150-300 som) from the Western bus station to Kochkor. The journey takes around 3 hours.

From Cholpon Ata – catch a shared taxi to Balykchy (200-300 som) from the Cholpon Ata bus station then catch another shared taxi to Kochkor (150-200 som). The journey takes around 3 hours.

From Naryn – just grab a shared taxi for the 120km journey (around 200 som).

From Osh – don’t even bother . We were quoted an outrageous price for a private taxi for this route. Go to Bishkek first!

Arranging the trek with CBT Kochkor

As we mentioned above, we are not experienced trekkers and don’t have our own gear so we headed to CBT Kochkor (located at 22A Pionerskaya St, just off the main road) to arrange our trek. This is a very popular trek, and the lady at the CBT office had clearly organised a few of these trips before. It was very easy to arrange, and we were able to depart the next morning. The CBT office also has free wifi, which is very handy!

The total price for our 2 night/3 day trek was 8,900 som per person. This included:

  • an English-speaking, female guide
  • accommodation in yurt homestays
  • 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners
  • private transport (both ways)

We gave our guide and driver a small tip, although this did not seem to be expected. We also chose to extend our stay at Song Kul for one extra night for 1,400 som per person. This included all meals and accommodation in a private yurt.

We also booked one night’s accommodation in a CBT homestay in Kochkor. This cost 500 som per person, including breakfast. Dinner was an extra 350 som per person. We had a twin room, wifi, hot showers and an outside toilet.

There is no doubt you can do this trek cheaper – we heard that other tour companies in Kochkor offer this trek for lower prices (although these companies have mixed reviews online). You can also do the trek and/or arrange your transport independently (more info below). However, we are happy to pay slightly higher prices if it means we have a good trek and there is minimal d*cking around with transport, inclusions/exclusions etc. We were very happy with our trip (especially our guide, who spoke near-perfect English), so we have no regrets over the price.

Our trekking experience

Day 1: Our driver picked us up from our homestay at 9am, then drove us to the CBT office to drop off our bags that we weren’t taking on the trip. Here we met our guide (Aruka – I’m sure I have spelled that wrong!). Aruka is studying English teaching in Bishkek, and works as a guide during her summer break. Aruka was perfect – great English, very friendly, told us about the local culture and tried to teach us Kyrgiz words, and walked with us the entire trek and checked that we were OK (because I probably looked like I was going to die). She even translated for other trekkers who we met during the trek and played the occasional Adele song on her phone.

The first day, we drove for around 1 hour before being dropped off at Km 46 on the Kochkor-Jumgal road. From there we headed south. In the morning you will cross the Chaar Archa pass, then descend into a valley for lunch. You then cross the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ over a small river, before heading up the left-hand side of the valley across another pass. Heading downhill from the second pass, you will eventually cross a small metal bridge and veer right until you reach the small village of Kilemche. The total trekking time was around 5 hours.

We shared a yurt with our guide and another couple. The food was tasty, and they were happy to cook vegetarian meals.

Day 2: The next day we headed up the valley to the Jalgis Karagai pass, which we were told was at 3,600m above sea level. This is an incline of 800m in one morning so it was pretty challenging. The views of Song Kul and the surrounding mountains are spectacular from the pass. We descended to Jamanechki for lunch in a local yurt, before walking another 2 hours on flat terrain to the main yurt camp of Baltai-Aral. The total trekking time was around 7 hours.

We stayed in a yurt labelled ‘CBT Kochkor 1’. We had our own yurt and the food was great. The family were really friendly and happy to arrange horses at the last minute. We hired horses for 800 som per day. Baltai-Aral is sometimes referred to as ‘Yurt-Vegas’ because there are so many yurts. You should be prepared for tour groups!

Trekking to Song Kul independently

The route: It is certainly possible to do this trek independently. You should have a GPS on your phone and your own camping gear.  There were quite a few tourists doing this trek by foot and horse, so it is easy to work out the route. There is also a GPS route in Wikiloc, and a decent description of the route in the Lonely Planet Central Asia guidebook (p275 in 6th ed.).

Accommodation: While there are plenty of yurtstays in Baltai-Aral, there are only a few in Kilemche. These seemed to be pretty much booked up by guided groups. Don’t bet on finding a bed last minute in Kilemche. It’s best to have your own tent just in case. It’s free to set up your tent and the yurt camps will provide dinner (for a fee) if need be.

Transport: You can find a gazillion taxi drivers in Kochkor willing to drive you to the trail head at Km 46. You should be prepared to bargain. It shouldn’t cost more than 1,000 som per car. There are also plenty of taxis at Baltai-Aral offering lifts back to Kochkor (around 1,000-2,000 som per car) or Naryn (3,000-3,500 som per car).

Self catering: If you are self-catering, bear in mind that there are no shops in Kilemche or Baltai-Aral. Buy everything you need in Kochkor.

Japan By Rail: Guide to the JR Rail Pass

Japan By Rail: Guide to the JR Rail Pass

Speaking as a both a tourist and a travel agent, there are not many transport passes around that offer better value for money than the JR Rail Pass. There is no better way to get around Japan. Speeding along at 300km/h on a brand new shinkansen will be one of the highlights of your time in Japan. This guide will help you with purchasing and using your pass.

Purchasing Your Pass

Which pass should I buy?

The JR Rail Pass has a number of different options and picking the right one can be a bit of a nightmare.

Duration – passes are available for 3 different durations: 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. Just pick the one that suits the duration of your trip best.

Bear in mind that your pass covers your trip to/from the airport as well as one circle line on the Tokyo metro, but these trips are much cheaper than the longer journeys. For some people it may make more financial sense to purchase a cheaper, shorter duration pass and then pay separately for the airport train line and Tokyo metro. We recommend saving your pass for longer, more expensive journeys.

Class – there are two classes available: Ordinary Class (Standard) or Green Class (1st Class). Much like an aircraft the main difference is comfort. We used the Ordinary Class and cannot see how the extra money for the Green Class could be worth it – Ordinary Class was fantastic! Plenty of leg room, aisle service for food and air-conditioning.

Location – JR offer location-specific passes which can reduce the price of your pass. There are a wide range of location options, including different ‘regions’ which include multiple locations. For most people, the standard JR Pass is what you are after though, as this will cover trains to pretty much everywhere in Japan.

Where should I buy my pass?

The most important detail is that you must purchase your pass outside of Japan. You can purchase the pass from travel agents or online.

You will be provided with a voucher for your rail pass, which you will need to exchange for your actual pass at a JR office once you arrive in Japan. Your pass will be valid for 3 months. This simply means that it needs to be exchanged within 3 months from the purchase date.

How much should it cost?

One of the many perks about the JR Rail Pass is it’s universal cost. Regardless of where you are buying it the cost should be exactly the same. Passes for ordinary class range from AUD$391 to AUD$797, depending on the duration of the pass. However, you may be charged additional booking and/or delivery fees by the website or travel agent.

A great website to explore the different passes is Rail Plus – their JR Rail Pass section will give you all the information you need to know.

Using Your Pass

Exchanging your voucher

Exchanging your voucher for your JR Rail Pass is a piece of cake. Simply find any JR Rail office (located in every major railway station and airport), hand over the voucher and you will be issued with your awesome looking JR Rail Pass!

Finding train schedules

You can simply walk in to a JR Office and ask the super helpful staff about scheduling. Just tell them the cities you would like to travel to and from, the date and time you would like to travel. The staff will walk you through your options and provide plenty of information. We found that staff in the main cities spoke excellent English and were able to answer all of our questions.

You can also check schedules online using the Hyperdia website. One of the cool features of Hyperdia is that it allows you to filter your search to only include JR Rail Pass trains. Drop down the ‘More Options’ tab just below the date search to select JR Trains. It also pays to un-select the Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa tab as these are not included in your pass.

Reserving your seats

Simply visit your nearest JR Office and tell them the journey for which you would like to reserve seats. There are no fees for reserving seats. If the particular train you are looking for is full the staff will help you find another.

Which trains are included?

The JR Rail Pass includes pretty much every train you will need. It also includes buses, ferries and even a cable car or two. There are a few exceptions however: the Nozomi train (Osaka to Tokyo) is not included, but there are plenty of other options that cover this route. The Mizuho train (Osaka to Kagoshima) is also not included but once again, there are plenty of other options.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely! The JR Rail Pass will pay for itself within the first few long distance journeys. When combined with the ease of using the pass, it really is a no-brainer. You will be hard-pressed to find a cheaper, quicker or easier way to get around Japan. Enjoy!

Everest Base Camp Trek – What To Expect & What To Pack

Everest Base Camp Trek – What To Expect & What To Pack

So, you’ve seen the breathtaking pictures, heard the amazing stories and want to tick the Everest Base Camp trek off of your bucket list. Great to hear! The trek is absolutely incredible and by far one of the most rewarding experiences we have had throughout our travels.This article will hopefully give you some idea of what to expect from the trek and a few helpful ideas about what to pack.



For most mere mortals, it’s going to be tough.

Expect long days of uphill hiking in a range of weather conditions. Wind, rain, snow, heat – the Everest Base Camp trek has it all. Walking distances will vary day to day. You will hike less distance per day as you ascend compared to your descent, as you need to give your body time to adjust to the rising altitude.

You will be walking 3 to 7 hours per day, usually at fairly steep inclines and declines. While the inclines are hard on the lungs (especially at high altitude), the declines are hell on your knees and toes.

In saying this, we managed to complete the trek without any incidents and we were always sure we would be able to finish the trek. I would say that when we are at home we have an average level of fitness – we exercise a few times a week, eat pretty well but also enjoy a pint or two and find it hard to walk past the chocolate section in the supermarket.


There is a range of accommodation on offer, even ‘luxury’ lodges, but for the most part expect the accommodation to be pretty basic. You will be staying in trekking lodges along the trail, which are usually family run and offer great value meals. Once you leave Namche Bazaar (the biggest village in the region which you will reach on day 2) the lodges will slowly become more basic the further you ascend.

The lodges differ in size – we found the larger ones a great place to meet other trekkers. All of the lodges we stayed in had electricity but very few had running water (especially at higher altitude). Hot showers and internet will be an extra cost.

The lodges centre around a dining room/lounge which is usually heated by a yak dung fire. There is usually a hallway leading to the bedrooms, which are made from thin cladding and do not have heating. Most rooms are accessible without having to walk outside though. The shared toilets are usually squats with a bucket of water for flushing (especially at higher altitude).

The beds are definitely on the firmer side and the bedrooms get very cold at night. Some lodges offer blankets/doonas, but you should bring an extra warm sleeping bag just in case.


The food does get quite repetitive but is very tasty. The infamous Dal Bhaat (vegetable curry and rice) becomes a staple for many trekkers as there are infinite free refills. Other dishes such as fried rice, fried noodles, Sherpa stew and omelettes are tasty options.

We were vegetarian during the trek – trekking past Sherpas carrying legs of beef that haven’t been refrigerated for several days was enough to steer us away. There are meat dishes available if you want to try your luck.

You can also find some small comforts along the way – most lodges and shops will sell chocolate bars, chips and candy. It will get more expensive the higher you ascend.


Bottled water is readily available for the entire length of the trail but will become increasingly expensive as you ascend. Lodges will be happy to boil water for you to use the following day (at a price). A great way to avoid having to fork out money for bottled water day after day is to take sterilisation tablets or a UV steri-pen.


Aside from the sense of completion you will receive upon finishing the iconic Everest Base Camp trek, the scenery is the main reason you are there and it certainly does not disappoint. It’s straight from a Lord of the Rings movie with snow-capped peaks soaring high above streams running through picturesque valleys. You will see plenty of yak and donkey trains, and ascend to desolate glaciers. There will be a couple of places to view Mt Everest. Arguably the best views are from Gokyo Ri (a three day side trip from the main Everest Base Camp trekking trail). You will not see Mt Everest from the Everest Base Camp itself.


Preparation for the Everest Base Camp as with any trek of this length will differ from person to person depending on your level of experience and physical fitness. We had been travelling through India for the 2 months leading up to the trek with minimal exercise other than walking, and we completed a 15 day Everest Base Camp Trek with a side trek to Gokyo Lakes without too much hassle.

It was definitely physically challenging for us but at no point did we consider turning around or quitting the trek. We would recommend doing some steep treks at home in the weeks leading up to your Everest Base Camp trek and exercising at least three times a week to ensure you have a reasonable level of fitness before you embark.

Altitude Sickness – there is no foolproof way to prepare yourself for potential altitude sickness. The effects differ from person to person. The most common symptoms include headaches, nausea, weariness and a loss of appetite. Be aware of your body’s changes as you ascend, and don’t be afraid to ask your guide or lodge for assistance if you are feeling the effects of altitude sickness. The cure? Head back down the mountain.

What To Pack

The Everest Base Camp trek is a pretty serious hike and you will need to pack accordingly. Tights and runners aren’t going to get the job done unfortunately. Spend the money to buy quality gear that will be comfortable, warm and sturdy. Generally, you should bring gear from home. However, Kathmandu has a gazillion camping stores selling gear. The quality varies so inspect garments closely before purchasing. The labels might say North Face or Patagonia but they may not be the genuine article.

The key to clothing is layering. While you may need shorts and t-shirts for trekking during the day, it’s also important to have warm clothing at night and to be prepared for rain or snow.

Laundry services are available at some lodges, but you will probably just end up hand-washing the essentials. Ask your lodge for some warm water and a tub, but expect to use your own soap or body wash.

We have jotted down a few items we found particularly important:

Shoes – get yourself a waterproof, high quality, comfortable pair of shoes. We recommend getting a pair of boots that go above the ankle just in case you need to trek through snow. Have them fitted properly and wear them in before you start to avoid any blisters.

Beanie, gloves, thermals – packing clothes that are going to keep you warm is incredibly important. No matter what time of year you are trekking you are going to come across some very chilly weather. Gloves should be wind and waterproof.

Walking Poles – they may look a bit silly but on a trek like this they are an absolute must. You can pick up a good pair in Kathmandu and donate them to a hostel or guesthouse when you’re done.

Cash – you will still need some spending money along the way for items such as water, snacks, showers, internet and maybe a sneaky beer or two. There are ATMs in Lukla and Namche Bazaar but it’s not uncommon for them to be out of order and the fees are insane, so make sure you take some Nepalese Rupee with you.

Packing List

Here is a comprehensive packing list for your trip:


  • hat
  • beanie/wool hat
  • sunglasses
  • 5+ pairs of underwear
  • 1 x hiking shorts
  • 1 x hiking pants
  • 1 x thermal leggings
  • 5 pairs of good quality woollen hiking socks
  • Waterproof hiking boots with spare laces
  • Flip flops/thongs
  • 3 x t shirts
  • 2 x long sleeve thermal tops
  • 1 x down jacket
  • 1 x waterproof jacket
  • 1 x pull over/hoodie
  • 1 pair of waterproof gloves
  • 1 x scarf


  • sleeping bag
  • headlamp
  • basic first aid kit (including broad spectrum antibiotics, Diamox for altitude sickness, and bandages for blisters)
  • plastic bags for wet clothing
  • trekking poles
  • 1L water bottle
  • book/e-reader
  • deck of cards
  • 1 x quick dry towel


  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • soap/body wash
  • deodorant
  • nail clippers
  • moisturiser
  • tampons/sanitary pads
  • wet wipes
  • toilet paper
  • antibacterial hand sanitiser

Hopefully this article has let you in on what you will be experiencing throughout the trek and what to take when you embark on your adventure!

Everest Base Camp Trek – Choosing A Tour Company

Everest Base Camp Trek – Choosing A Tour Company

For us, making the decision to tackle the Everest Base Camp trek was a no-brainer. This is one of the most famous treks on the planet. Choosing how we would do the trek and which company to use was a lot more difficult.

Here are a few tips to help you choose a tour company, or make the decision to go solo.

Choosing a tour company

There are over 1000 registered companies that can take eager travellers on any combination of treks to reach the Everest Base Camp (EBC). Working out which one is for you can be an absolute nightmare – it took us a lot of research to choose the company we preferred. We have compared a few of the options below.

Group touring with an international tour company

Most international adventure tour companies will offer some version of the EBC trek at a range of comfort levels.  A few of the big names include Intrepid, G Adventures and World Expeditions.


Atmosphere – having a group of like-minded individuals around you for such an incredible experience can form amazing friendships and gives you someone to vent to after a long day on the trail.

Guide – with professional international tour outfits you are going to be given top shelf guides who speak English and excellent support staff.

Reliability – larger group touring companies very rarely cancel their flagship tours such as the EBC trek so you can rest assured that your planned adventure will go ahead regardless of numbers.


Atmosphere – for anyone that has been on a group tour before will know, there is always the risk that you will not click with one or many of your fellow travellers. In a higher stress environment such as EBC trek this can ruin the whole experience.

Price – there is no getting around it, group touring is more expensive than using local companies. You are paying for the pros listed above, added to the fact that these international companies have a hefty profit margin on top of their local costs.

Flexibility – touring in this format commits you to a very strict timeline and itinerary – once you’re on, that’s it. You usually won’t be able to add in any side trips, take a day off or modify the trip in any way.

Private guide with a local company

This is the option we went with for two main reasons: we wanted our money to stay in Nepal and it worked out to be much cheaper than going with a bigger international company. It also meant we had more flexibility.


Flexibility – the best part of booking with a local guide is that you have as much flexibility as possible. You can modify your trek to include whatever you like. Changes to route, length and difficulty are all up to you.

Price & Sustainability – during our research we found that local companies can be up to HALF the price of the major international touring companies! Not only is this a huge saving for you but your money is staying in Nepal.

Guides – having an experienced Nepalese guide can make the trek for you. They can be incredibly knowledgeable about the area and way of life, know a few tricks that foreign guides do not and their familiarity with the trails is uncanny.


Atmosphere – while we were promised other travellers would join our group, this did not end up being the case (we heard similar stories from other travellers). Have your group organised before you contact the company, otherwise expect it to be just you and the guide. The lack of camaraderie and atmosphere can be a major downside. Not having a group to chat with after a long day of hiking can get a touch lonely. Then again, this is exactly what some people love!

Miscommunication – whether it be during the planning process or during the trek, dealing with local staff and guides increases the chance of miscommunication due to potential language barriers.

Dodgy service – with so many tour operators in Kathmandu, there is a small chance that the company may not deliver what they promise and quality can vary. Do your research and check out other reviews.

Solo trekking

This option should be for experienced trekkers only. If you have done a bit of trekking in the past, the EBC trek is relatively easy to navigate on your own! The trail is pretty busy, and there are lodges every couple of hours if you want to stop for the night.


Freedom – simply put, you can do whatever you want! You can go where you want, when you want and at your own pace. With a good map and a bit of research the trek is quite easy to follow.

Price – this method is definitely the cheapest way to complete the EBC trek. Not paying any guides or porters will save you a bucket load of cash. You can hire a porter without a guide, but don’t expect them to speak much English or help with route planning.

Experience – hitting the trails on your own and completing a trek using nothing but your own devices is the most rewarding way to experience any trek!


Safety – you don’t have to look very far to find a horror story about trekking gone wrong. With such risks including weather, altitude sickness and injury, safety is always a concern when trekking solo. Do your research on how to stay safe while on the trail and consider finding a trekking partner.

Accommodation – during peak seasons guides often rely on their relationships with lodges to find you a comfortable room. If you’re on your own you may have to shop around a bit more before finding a bed.

Organisation – booking the trek with a company means that everything is organised for you. Having to organise routes, times, weather, air tickets, equipment and the endless list of other details can quickly become tiresome (especially if you aren’t an experienced trekker).

Need more information about what to expect and what to pack? Check out our other Everest Base Camp trek article!

Getting a Mongolia Visa in Hanoi

Getting a Mongolia Visa in Hanoi

We received our Mongolian visa from the Hanoi embassy in Vietnam in May 2016 using our Australian passports without any problems. Here is some information on the application process.

Embassy location

The Mongolian Embassy is located in the Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound at 298 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh (Villa 6). Just ask one of the guards out the front for directions if you have trouble finding it. A taxi should cost around US$4 from the Old Town.

The Embassy only accepts applications on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm. The staff also have a lunch break from 12-2pm.

Documents required for visa application

You need to provide:

  • completed application form (available at the Embassy office)
  • passport photo
  • your passport
  • copy of your itinerary
  • bank receipt for the visa fee (US$50)

For the itinerary, we provided copies of our flight booking into Mongolia and our train booking out of Mongolia.

Paying the visa fee

You will be sent to the Vietcomm bank around the corner from the Embassy. The staff will give you a piece of paper with the payment information on it to pay the fee. You must pay the visa fee in US dollars. The bank will not accept payment in Vietnamese Dong. There is a small processing fee payable in Vietnamese Dong, but the visa fee itself is paid in US dollars. Take your passport as the bank will want a copy. Then come back to the embassy with the payment receipt to finish submitting your application.

Processing time

We were told to collect our visas at 4pm in 7 days’ time. We had plenty of spare time so didn’t push for them to do it any quicker, although you probably could because our visas were issued the day after we applied. We were given a 30 day tourist visa with three months validity.

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Naadam Festival

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Naadam Festival

The Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s biggest festival and is celebrated across the country. It showcases three traditional Mongolian games – archery, wrestling and horse racing. There is a palpable energy across the country during the festival and it is a fantastic time to visit. And the best news? You can experience all the fun and chaos of Naadam on a budget. No tours required!

Naadam Festival Dates

The Festival is held in Ulaanbaator on the 11th and 12th of July each year. Most businesses in the city close from the 11th to 13th of July. The regional capitals also hold their own Naadam Festival events throughout July, although the exact dates usually aren’t confirmed until mid-June. The regional festivals are generally free of charge, and allow you to get much closer to the action. Different towns and regions will hold their festivals on different dates, so do your homework before locking in any dates. We found this website to be helpful.

This is peak tourist season in Mongolia so be sure to book your accommodation (especially in Ulaanbaator) well in advance. Some of the most popular guesthouses are booked out for the whole month of July.

What To Expect At Naadam in UB

On day 1, the festival kicks off with the opening ceremony. The stadium will be absolutely packed and it is basically impossible to move once the ceremony begins. Many of the seats do not have shade, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen if it’s hot. The opening ceremony is spectacular, and features impressive war reenactments, singing and dancing.

Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony

Following the opening ceremony are the first rounds of wrestling. The matches will continue all day, and the crowds are much smaller. The horse racing also commences outside of Ulaanbator. At night, there is usually a free concert and fireworks at Chinggis Khan Square.

On day 2, the wrestling continues and the archery begins. The horse racing continues outside of Ulaanbaator (and will continue for a few more days). After the final wrestling match (which can be late in the evening), the closing ceremony is held. There are also free concerts and a big screen showing the wrestling in Chinggis Khan Square.

Naadam Festival Wrestling

There are tonnes of food stands outside the stadium, and you can easily re-enter the stadium with your original ticket. No alcohol is sold, although you’ll probably see a couple of drunks stumbling around.

Buying Naadam Festival Tickets

There are a few ways you can get your hands on tickets for the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaator – even at the last minute!

Joining a Tour

Plenty of local and international tour companies will be selling tours that include attending the Naadam Festival. These tours generally include meals, an English speaking guide and transport to the main stadium and then onward to the horse racing. Tours can vary significantly in price and quality, so do your research by reading reviews and speaking to other travellers. Also make sure you confirm what is included in the tour and the location of your seats. We found these tours were generally very expensive.

Buying tickets from a guesthouse

Many guesthouses buy Naadam tickets to on-sell to tourists, usually with a small commission added. You can email a few guesthouses before arriving in Momgolia to see what kind of premium they are charging, but it shouldn’t cost more than USD$60 per person for a 2-day ticket. Even if you have left it until the night before, some guesthouses will still have tickets available so it’s worth a shot. We recommend speaking to Sunpath Guesthouse who quoted us a very reasonable amount for tickets.

Buying your own tickets

You can line up at the Wrestling Palace to buy tickets on the day they are released (usually the week before Naadam), but we really don’t think it’s worth the hassle. For a small commission someone can do the lining up for you and you don’t have to worry about pickpockets!

Buying tickets from a scalper

If you can’t secure tickets from your guesthouse, head to the Wrestling Palace the day before the festival starts. Usually there are ticket scalpers outside the Palace who will sell you cheap tickets. We bought 2-day tickets for USD$30 per person. There is always a risk with buying tickets from scalpers that they may turn out to be fakes, so buyer beware – have a look at the quality of the tickets, ask lots of questions and if anything seems a bit off just continue on your way.

Attending free events

You can enjoy the Naadam Festival without even buying a ticket! You only need tickets to see the opening and closing ceremonies, and the wrestling. You can watch the archery and horse racing free of charge. The wrestling finals are aired on a big screen in Chinggis Khan Square, which is fun to watch with the locals. There are also free concerts and fireworks every night at the Square.

Naadam Festival Archery

Event Locations

The opening and closing ceremonies and the wrestling matches are held at the National Stadium. The archery is held just next door to the stadium. Ask one of the English speaking ‘student police’ for directions. The horse racing is located approximately 40km from Ulaanbaator. There are free shuttle buses that transport people from the city to the racetrack – check with your hostel or the ‘student police’ where the buses are departing from. Chinggis Khan Square is always full of activity during Naadam, including concerts, fireworks and big screens with the wrestling on.

Getting Around

Traffic is chaos during Naadam, so it is best to travel by foot if possible. Taxis will probably take longer than walking anyway! The Stadium is an easy 15-20 minute walk from Chinggis Khan Square. There are free shuttle buses that transport people from the city to the racetrack, but we heard they are pretty chaotic.

Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

In this guide we will tell you all about travelling in Cambodia on a budget, including what to see, where to stay and how to get there.

Why Visit?

Cambodia has been on the budget backpacker bucket list for years – and for good reason. Food and alcohol is cheap, it’s easy to get around and there is no shortage of other travellers to hang out with. Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise, partying in Sihanoukville and chilling out by the river in Kampot should all be on your ‘to do’ list.

Must-See Places

Siem Reap

The star attraction in Siem Reap are the Angkor temples,  home to some of the world’s most stunning temples, including the spectacular Angkor Wat. It is easy to spend at least 3 days exploring the site. You will need to buy a 1 day (US$20), 3 day (US$40) or 7 day (US$60) admission pass at the main entrance, which is easy to find with a driver or on a bike. Highlights for us were Angkor Wat, Bantey Srei, Bayon, Ta Keo and Ta Prohm. There is also the fascinating Cambodia Landmine Museum (US$5) on the way to Bantey Srei that is well worth a visit.

The best way to visit the temples and museum is by tuk-tuk, especially when it’s hot. Usually your hostel will arrange cheap drivers for the day, or you can bargain with a driver on the street.  If you are feeling energetic you can also rent bicycles cheaply – just ask your hostel. Tourists are generally not allowed to hire motorcycles or scooters themselves.

TRAVELATOR TIP: You can usually fit up to 4 people in a tuk-tuk to share the cost of an Angkor tour.

Spectacular Angkor Wat at sunrise
Spectacular Angkor Wat at sunrise

Phnom Penh

It is a confronting and sobering couple of days in Phnom Penh visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison, but it is an experience that every tourist should have to fully appreciate the horrors the Cambodian people have endured. Your hostel will be able to arrange a tuk-tuk driver for both sites, or you can easily bargain with a driver on the street.


Kampot is a relaxed riverside town that seems to make everyone want to stay longer than they had planned. Hire a scooter and cruise through the hills in Bokor National Park, do a firefly cruise on the river or head to Arcadia Backpackers Hostel for a fun day of rope swings and blob dives. A day trip to the beachside resort town of Kep is also super easy from Kampot.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Head to Arcadia Hostel just out of Kampot on your scooter for lunch and river fun – they have a ‘blob’ and rope swing on the river. You don’t have to be staying at the hostel to use the facilities, and you can buy drinks and lunch from the bar.

Arcadia Hostel Kampot Cambodia
Cooling off at Arcadia Hostel


We have heard very mixed reviews about Sihanoukville, but if you’re up for a party this is your spot. If you prefer to relax by the beach, Sihanoukville is the best place to hop on a boat to the secluded islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem.

Where To Stay

Cambodia is a backpacker’s heaven, and there is plenty of good value accommodation. Here are our favourites:

  • Siem ReapOnederz Hostel – Right next door to the Angkor Night Market, Onederz is super clean with great air conditioning and good value breakfasts. Not a ‘party’ hostel, but close to Pub Street if you want a night out.
  • KampotKampot Oasis Guesthouse – Run by two super friendly Englishmen, this guesthouse isn’t the cheapest but it will feel like your second home. Sit up by the bar and enjoy the cheap beer and cider while having a chat to the owners, they also put on some amazing Western food including a fantastic full English breakfast.
  • KepBotanica Guesthouse – This is seriously resort luxury on a backpacker budget. From only US$17 per night, you can get your own luxury bungalow and relax in the saltwater pool with a cocktail. Heaven!

Must Eats


Cambodians love a good barbecue and will cook up almost everything imaginable! Whether you feel like chicken, pork, fish or frogs, there will be something to your liking at a Cambodian barbecue. You can find them on the streets in most cities.

Street food BBQ during Khmer New Year in Siem Reap
Street food BBQ during Khmer New Year in Siem Reap

Pepper Crab

Kampot is famous for its pepper, and Kep is famous for its crabs. Needless to say, the combination of the two is a winner. Often you can get a huge meal of pepper crab for less than US$10.

Amok Curry

This is a mild creamy coconut curry that usually comes with fish or chicken. Order some rice and tuck in!

Getting Around

The easiest way to get around is by bus or minibus. Most hostels can book you a ticket to your next destination (for a small booking fee) and the bus will pick you up from your hostel. Your hostel will also be able to book Mekong river cruises, which can take you all the way to Ho Chi Minh! There are also travel agencies everywhere you look who may be able to offer something cheaper than your hostel but check the quality of the bus the travel agency is booking you on.

Getting In and Out

The two main airports are in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. AirAsia is a great budget option, especially if you are flying in from Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia connect to pretty much everywhere throughout Asia and as far as Australia. Overland buses are also available – speak to your hostel to book a ticket.

If travelling on to Vietnam, a good route is Kep to Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. Travel agents in Kep can arrange a minibus and ferry trip that will cost around USD$20 – we used Ana Tours in Kep without any problems. Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City via bus is also a common route.


USD$70 per day (for a couple) will get you comfortable private rooms, good local food, a few beers and the odd activity and scooter hire.

Best Time To Visit

The cool season is from November to February, which is the best time to visit. The hot season is from March to May and it is seriously HOT (and humid). The rainy season is from June to October, and the monsoonal rains can bring some practical challenges with dirt roads.

Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.