Hear about Trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal as the Amateur Traveler talks to the Su Family from sufamilyadventures.com about tackling this well-known route.
The five members of the Su family (Jonathan, Annie, Olivia, Nathan, and Joani) are on a larger adventure traveling along the Silk Road but took a detour to Nepal to hike this famous trek. The normal time to do this hike is 23 days, but by adding in some bone-crunching jeep rides they shortened it to fit into 8 days.
They hiked through rain, snow, and beautiful sunlit days that showcased the local mountains. They started in a forest full of fall colors and hiked far above the tree line.
They found Nepal well suited for long treks with tea houses or lodges every few kilometers, although the 43 hikers who perished the year before in a tragic snowstorm were not far from their minds.
Fueled by chocolate bars and Dal Baht they found surprises along the way like bakeries and vista but the biggest surprise may have been encountering a South Korean group carrying a disassembled grand piano to the summit for a concert.
With the rise in elevation, food got more expensive but the accommodation was often thrown in for free if you would eat at the lodge. They learned to get the most calories at the lowest price.
Perseverance allowed them to push through to the 5416 meter Throng La Pass and they share the highs and lows of that adventure with us.
Countries We Plan to Travel Through
What If We Died Here?
Annapurna Circuit Trek – 23 Day
Video of Concert at the Summit
Lonely Planet Nepal (Travel Guide)
Another fabulous podcast!
Your interview with Alex brought back great memories of our family’s trip to the city in the summer of 2013.
During our five day stay we managed to see most of the city highlights giving us great insight into this historical city. A couple of our observations include:
– you need a whole day to visit the Kremlin. It is a massive complex with several museums (the world’s largest collection of Faberge eggs), five cathedrals and many public spaces. On Saturdays in the summer there is the changing of the ceremonial guard in late morning. One warning – there’s no where to buy food or water inside the Kremlin.
– the GUM department store really isn’t a department store. Rather it is a mall chock full of western stores. Prices are outrageous and there’s nothing you could buy there you can’t buy at home.
– the best place to souvenirs is the huge Izmailovsky open air market. It is a short walk from the Partizanskaya station (Metro Blue Line). Come prepared to haggle!
– Alex didn’t mention any places to grab a meal. Moscow has some great restaurants including Cafe Puskin (a high end restaurant located in an historic Baroque mansion), GlavPivTorg (decorated in a 1950s Soviet style office complex – a lot of fun) and Barashka (a fabulous restaurant specializing in traditional Azerbaijani cuisine)
We found it relatively easy to navigate the city on our own. We relied extensively on the Metro (and it is truly a sight to be seen on its own) though learning the Cyrillic alphabet will help and walking everywhere is the best way to get a true feel of the people and the history. We never felt unsafe though you’ll likely get tired of policemen and security guards blowing whistles at you because you crossed the street in the wrong place, are sitting on the wrong stairs, walked on grass you shouldn’t have and so on. No wonder the people can come across as being dour!
Looking forward to some more great podcasts.
Chris: Amateur Traveler, episode 491. Today in the Amateur Traveler, grab your backpack and your hiking boots, your chocolate bars and your dal bhat as we go hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is represented by RoamRight , a leading provider of travel insurance. How much did you spend on your last vacation? What if you couldn’t travel, would you get your money back? With the right travel insurance plan, you would. Buy RoamRight travel insurance and get covered for cancelled trips, lost luggage, even medical emergencies. Visit RoamRight.com. That’s R-O-A-M-R-I-G-H-T-dot-com for more information.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. I think having a sponsor that does travel insurance might make more sense to you as we talk today about trekking at high altitude in Nepal. Let’s talk about the Annapurna Circuit.
I’d like to welcome to the show the Su family from SuFamilyAdventures.com. So, we have five people on the phone here or on Skype – Jonathan, Annie, Olivia, Nathan and Joani – and they’ve come to talk to us from Dubai, but come to talk to us about pretty a well-known trek. Welcome to the show, first of all.
Nathan: Thank you.
Olivia: Thank you.
Joani: Thank you.
Jonathan: Hello, everyone.
Chris: I just have this picture of a show where every question gets answered five times. You’re probably going to need to delegate someone, point to somebody in the room. And where are we going to talk about this week?
Jonathan: We would like to show with you about our family trek in Annapurna Circuit trail.
Chris: Excellent. And where is the Annapurna Circuit trail?
Jonathan: It’s in the Himalayas of the Nepal.
Chris: Okay. And it’s relatively well-known, but certainly not something that I’ve done. Can you give people, before we go into the details, can you give us an overview of how long you were on the trek and what the highlights are, why somebody should do this?
Jonathan: Sure. And the Circuit trail is very famous because you actually can circle the whole mountain basically through trekking or hiking through it. And usually the whole circuit takes about 22 days or so. But as a family we knew that with three children that it might be difficult to do that. So, we fortunately or unfortunately for some people, they have recently built more and more roads on the Circuit. So, you can actually shorten the time by taking a combination of bus, jeep and trekking. So, for us, we did it in eight days.
Chris: Okay, excellent. And you say it’s difficult with kids. We should put this in some context. You’re not carrying kids in carry-ons or pushing them in strollers, your kids are 18 and 15 and 13.
Chris: So, really you’re saying it’s difficult for middle-aged guys named Jonathan. Is that really what’s going on?
Annie: Yes. No, it’s difficult for the aging mom, for the kids have to drag their mom and say, “Hurry up.”
Chris: Okay. Excellent. First of all, how does one get there? What’s the logistics of this trip?
Jonathan: To get there, usually most people fly to Kathmandu. And then from there, you can either take a plane to Pokhara or take a bus to Pokhara. Pokhara is sort of like the resting place for people who’s willing to start the trek or to finish the trek. But you can also go directly from Kathmandu to the start of the trail as well. So, there’s many ways to get there. So, from Pokhara you would go to a town called Besisahar, and from there that’s where the trail starts.
And actually for us, because we wanted to shorten the number of days of trek, we actually found a jeep from Besisahar to a town called Kota. And that leg on the jeep was really difficult. We were pretty much dancing inside the jeep.
Jonathan: It took about seven to eight hours dancing in the jeep to arrive at Kota.
Chris: And you say dancing in the jeep, this is not a smooth, well-paved road is what the picture I’m getting?
Olivia: Not at all.
Annie: No. Their head was bouncing off the roof and the sides of the jeep.
Joani: It was more like a rollercoaster ride the last seven hours.
Chris: Okay. That is a long rollercoaster ride. Okay.
Joani: And then you keep on banging left and right on the sides of the car.
Jonathan: I think we all have bruises from the seven-hour ride. So, I sort of regretted it, but we did save four days of trekking.
Joani: So, we don’t regret it.
Jonathan: By taking the jeep. Because I think about halfway through the jeep ride, we saw such beautiful sceneries that I just wanted to get off and say, “Let’s start trekking form here.”
Olivia: Not us.
Chris: And how did you guys decide to do this particular trek? Or do any trek? Give us a little more context of what put you in middle of Nepal.
Jonathan: We feel trekking Nepal is the best way to see Nepal, and that’s what Nepal is best known for. And also, 18 years ago when I first traveled around the world, Nepal was my favorite country. So, I wanted to bring the family to Nepal and also just to see and admire the mountains. And I think trekking Nepal is good for family because there are a lot of good infrastructure available for doing long trek.
We trekked in other countries before, you usually have to carry everything on you, including tents, sleeping bag, food, stove, pots, etc. But in Nepal because every few kilometers there’s usually a tea house or a lodge, so technically you only have to carry very basic things – just some water, some change of clothes – and you could do a 10-day, 20 days hike with just few things.
Joani: But you need winter clothes, too.
Jonathan: Yes, yes.
Joani: And chocolate bars.
Chris: Good to know. Excellent. So, this part of a larger trip for you. You guys are on a trip around the world.
Jonathan: Technically, we’re only on a trip on the Silk Road. So, we wanted to go all the way from East Asia through Central Asia, Middle East, to Eastern Europe. That’s our itinerary for the year.
Chris: Okay. And why the Silk Road?
Jonathan: For two reasons. One reason is Silk Road is the meeting of the East and the West. And for me being born in Asia, in Taiwan, but growing up in the U.S., I just want to see the culture along the Silk Road. And the second reason is that often we hear a lot of news, especially in the Middle East, mostly negative news about terrorist bombing and hiding, and I just wanted to really understand the locals along the Silk Road, to know them for who they are, and really to get a better picture of the Middle East.
Chris: Okay, excellent. Now let’s get into the trek. So, you did this rollercoaster jeep ride for eight hours, cutting off four days off the trek. And then where next?
Jonathan: After we stayed overnight at the town of Koto, then we started our trek from Koto, passing through Chame, and then arriving at Upper Pisang. So, that was our first day of itinerary.
Chris: Okay. Describe for me that day. What kind of landscape are we walking through here?
Olivia: It was really beautiful. I think it was one of my favorite part of the trek because along the side, the slopes are quite steep, but it looked just like a golf course, just like almost a vertical golf course because there’s so many grass and so many trees. It feels like a gentle sharp mountain.
Chris: Interesting. That is not my mental picture. Okay. I was picturing something much more rugged and barren. So, I had the wrong picture there.
Annie: Oh, that was amazing because it reminded me so much of Whistler because I’m from Vancouver, BC.
Chris: Okay, up in British Columbia, mm-hmm.
Annie: So, a lot of the terrain is just so pristine nature and beautiful. We joke because we were in Cusco and Alps of Peru before and it just reminded us so much of the mountains that we have seen in other places.
Jonathan: Well, I think what’s attractive about Annapurna is that because it goes from 820 meters all the way up to 5,460 meters, so you go and see terrain of all types, and so you get a great variety, you never get bored. So, I think that’s one thing we really enjoyed about this trip.
Annie: Every day you see something new. The mountain is different, it’s changing. And then there’s one to two days where the fall colors, which is so vibrant everywhere. It was really beautiful.
Chris: And the fall colors, you were there in what month?
Chris: October, okay. Continue. Where did you go next?
Jonathan: After our first night in Upper Pisang, we trekked to a town called Ngawal, but most people actually goes from Upper Pisang to a town called Manang. But we wanted to break up the trek into shorter pieces. That’s what’s so good about trekking here is that depending on your energy level or your condition, you could do it faster or slower.
Actually, near the end of that day, it started to rain and the clouds were really thick. And we were actually doing pretty poorly that day. We were going up the switchback up the slope in the mountain and the children were just dying. And we barely made it to Ngawal.
But the surprising thing was that when you woke up in the morning, we were greeted by the most beautiful white-snowed mountain with all the clouds all gone and fresh snow on the mountain. Nathan, if you would like to share more about that day?
Nathan: That morning, I woke up extra early. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was thinking like, “Oh, whether it’s clear or cloudy, I’ll just get up and see what happens.” And when I woke up, everything was clear. I was able to see the different peaks of the Annapurna Circuit, and I was just jumping out of my bed, waking up my sisters and running next door to my parents, waking them up to see the view right outside our window from the lodge. It was absolutely breathtaking.
Chris: Excellent. Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor.
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You mentioned the kids were dying on this trip. How much prep work had you done? How much hiking had you done recently to get in shape for this? And how much do you need to do? It’s two questions.
Jonathan: Well, we actually hike quite a bit in Kyrgyzstan about a month earlier. We did two or three treks. So, I thought that we were okay, but I think the reason why we were dying on this first and second day was that we took a jeep up from 820 meters to 2,600 meters, so we weren’t really acclimatized so well. So, I think the first two days was really tough as we’re trying to get used to the higher elevation. And we noticed that the days afterwards, we actually felt better and better and we were surprised how well we did as the days went on.
Chris: Okay, got it. But you did a lot of that elevation all at once. Okay, that makes sense.
Jonathan: So, that day with the beautiful mountain views, we continued hike to the town Manang. It’s recommended by the guide book that you stay in Manang two days. One, to acclimatize. But what we did was because we cut the day, the hike shorter the previous day, so we actually instead of staying two days in Manang, we only needed to stay one day in Manang because we already stayed in Ngawal the day before. But Manang was actually very interesting place, and Olivia will share with you a little bit more about that town.
Olivia: It was really amazing. Lots of people say that you can restock up in Manang and things, but we thought it would be really expensive because as you go on the trek, each village you pass by gets more expensive for the same food you eat. When we got in Manang, it was like super cheap and then suddenly there was bakeries everywhere. There was 10 bakeries and then they have apple crumble with custard and Black Forrest cake. And the prices of the dessert compared with your meal is much cheaper, so we had so much fun just eating dessert there.
And besides that, this city also has a theater where you can go to to watch like “Seven Years in Tibet” and movies that are relative to the place. And then there’s a lot of hikers. Well, we trekked at two days before, we almost didn’t see anyone. But once we reach Manang there was like 40, 50 people just walking around the streets everywhere.
Chris: And I assume the hikers are from all over the world?
Olivia: Oh, yes. We met lots of people. We met a family from Sweden, and that’s our first family that we met on our trip.
Annie: With four adult kids.
Olivia: Yeah, with four adult kids. With one of them 24, the other like 20 and 19. I know that was very interesting. And we also met people form Germany.
Olivia: And Israel, lots of Israel.
Annie: And France.
Annie: And Americans.
Olivia: Yes, that’s actually a very big surprise for us.
Chris: That you were not the only Americans on the trip?
Olivia: Yes. We don’t see Americans usually anywhere, but suddenly, when we got to Manang and especially the high camp, the day after, Americans just popped out everywhere. It was very intriguing.
Chris: Excellent. And what happened next?
Jonathan: So, after our overnight in Manang, we started to get to the steeper part of the trek where we would go up in elevation higher and higher. Because in Manang, it’s at around 3,500…
Chris: Thirty-five hundred meters.
Jonathan: That’s right, 3,500 meters. And then we were going to trek to 4,200 meters for overnight. So, we were trying to prepare ourselves so we make sure we woke up early, got early head start, and again to trek. And surprisingly, it was easier than we expected. We actually got there at around 1 p.m., which was much better than the previous day. We always got to our destination around 5 p.pm. or 6 p.m. And what was special about that destination was that we met a group of Korean, and we were so surprised at what they were doing.
Chris: Were they making soup on top of the mountain?
Olivia: They were a group of Koreans that’s going to play a piano concert at the top of the peak.
Chris: Oh, my. Okay.
Olivia: At the pass.
Jonathan: At 5,460 meter.
Olivia: Yeah. And so, they’re doing this to show the world that even after the earthquake, Nepal is still safe, and they bring a grand piano all the way up to the peak. It has a professional piano list from Korea, and then a professional tuner, and just they’re slowly hiking up to be able to get over the elevation to get up to the top.
Annie: That was very exciting.
Jonathan: This activity they did was it’s called “Piano and Ice Cream.” So, piano represent peace and then ice cream represent joy.
Chris: Okay. Works for me.
Jonathan: Yeah. So, we were just so surprised at the different people we meet on the way.
Chris: So, you’re not guaranteeing us that if we do that trip, we’re going to run into piano concerts on the top of the peak?
Olivia: They actually hope to do it every year. This is the first year they did it.
Olivia: But they hope to come back, and most likely in October. So, if you want the chance, October is the month.
Chris: October is the month. Well, and that begs the question of why October, and when is the best time to do this trek?
Jonathan: October is actually the beginning of the good season to do the trek. So, usually the best season is October and November. You might be able to do it in September and maybe in early December, but pretty much that’s the hiking season.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Jonathan: But even though it’s a good season, actually it doesn’t guarantee there’s always good weather. As a matter of fact, when we were hiking, the second day, it was the one year anniversary of the tragic snowstorm that killed 34 hikers on the same trek that we were on. So, yeah anything could happen.
Chris: That’s good to know. Excellent.
Jonathan: On the same note, because we knew that there is still the potential danger even tough it’s such a popular trek, so we tried to prepare ourselves mentally. At first, we didn’t buy glove, we didn’t have gloves on us. So, started to, “Okay, we better buy gloves and better make sure that we’re warm enough just in case.”
But as we hiked, we actually noticed that there were some emergency shelter built along the way, and they look quite newly built. So, I think that was in response to what happened last year where a lot of hikers, they were stranded and no place for shelters. So, I think it should be better now.
Chris: I have only tried to hike one time at that altitude and I did what you did on that first day. I drove up, this is in the U.S. Rockies, and I drove up from a mile in elevation to two miles in elevation plus. So, you talk about trekking. I remember running out of breath on a quarter mile nature hike. So, your body adjusted over the time such that you were doing at this point, not just that you’re in elevation, but the hike is getting steeper also is my impression.
Jonathan: Yes. Joani, would you like to share about how you were able to adjust?
Joani: I was really surprised myself that I did super well on this trek because I wasn’t running out of breath too much. I will just stop a few seconds and then I feel like I get more energy. Because I also have asthma so we were afraid that it’s going to be harder for me and I will have to use my asthma medicine a lot. But it was actually really good. I didn’t had too much trouble.
Chris: So, it sounded like the only medicine you used for the altitude was chocolate. Did I get that right?
Joani: Yes. But because they wanted to make sure I don’t have any sudden asthma attacks, I’ll just use it daily while we were on the trek.
Jonathan: Well, the thing that we learned, gaining experience was that we found that we need to just take really slow, steady and slow steps. Whenever we feel a bit out of breath, we know that we went a little too fast. So, we each just went our own pace, and not necessarily had to try to stick together as one group. If you look at us from far away, almost like we’re doing slow sync walk. We’re just like one step, one step, one step. And then sometimes in sync, and it looks really interesting.
Chris: What kind of horizontal distance are you trying to cover in a day on your itinerary then?
Jonathan: Well, for our trek, we hike a total around 70 kilometers in our 6 days of trekking by foot. The whole Circuit is actually 210 kilometers.
Chris: Interesting. Okay.
Jonathan: So, we covered one third of it. And I think the one third that we covered is probably the highlight of the trek, so I think we did well in that sense. But usually we cover, if it’s flatter, we’ll cover around 15 kilometer, almost 20. And then if it’s steeper, maybe 5 to 10 kilometers.
Chris: Okay. Interesting.
Annie: I think the most strenuous part I felt as if I was just doing like long distance swimming because when I’m swimming laps, I would pace myself like breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe. So, at that point, I felt like I was swimming on land while it was just very regular pacing. But I’m usually the turtle in the family and I’m the slowest. My kids are bunny hopping way ahead of me.
There is a lot of other slow trekkers too, so it’s nice in that you get to encourage each other. And I remember my daughter shared her chocolate bar with another trekker that was needing energy on the way.
Chris: Well, we talked about acclimatizing. I assume that most of our audience knows that really what’s going on, one of the things that’s happening your body is actually building more red blood cells, which is why it takes a little while. By the time you’re at altitude for a couple of weeks, you’ve got quite a lot more blood cells to carry the oxygen so that you can make use of what little is up there.
Jonathan: That’s right. Another thing that we need to build is actually energy because it actually takes a lot of, consume a lot of energy. And the food price gets more and more expensive the higher and higher you go.
Chris: Right. It’s more difficult for them to bring food in.
Jonathan: So, we try to strategize, we try to strategize where we try to get the most calorie with the least amount of cost. So, pretty much every day when we order food, we will order fried potato and spaghetti with cheese. And that’s our staple for most of the days. Occasionally, we have a treat with a dessert, with some hot soup. Especially in the morning before the trek, we just go for fried potato and spaghetti. And also, another is their local staple which is called dal bhat. Olivia, you want to say something about that?
Olivia: Yes. Dal bhat at first can seem quite expensive compared to other foods, but as the trek goes on, everything gets expensive and the dal bhat becomes the same as other food, like for how many dollars?
Jonathan: About four, five dollars.
Olivia: For four or five dollars. And the first place we ate dal bhat, it was not very tasty. It was very salty and not very appetizing.
Chris: And can you describe what dal bhat is?
Olivia: There is usually a bean soup and then…
Jonathan: Lentil, lentil soup.
Olivia: Lentil soup and then vegetable curry with rice. But it’s different from place to place. The vegetables they cook is different, how they cook it is different, and the taste is different. In some places, they may give you some pickles or some extra vegetables. So, even though we didn’t really like it at the first place, we continued to try it at other places and we really enjoyed it.
And one thing that’s great about dal bhat is it’s actually two servings when you order one. After you finish a whole dal bhat, they will refill basically everything and you get to eat it again. So, that’s also pretty great.
Chris: Excellent. And I understand that in the higher elevations, sometimes you won’t have rice, but other grains because the rice doesn’t grow up there obviously?
Olivia: There was rice.
Chris: You saw rice everywhere, okay.
Jonathan: Yeah. They serve dal bhat at all the lodges. That’s like the main trekking food. So, somehow they carry the rice up there. But that’s also maybe why it’s more and more expensive the higher you go.
Annie: They had porters and horses and mules to carry the food.
Chris: And you mention the lodges, the tea houses. Tell us more about them.
Jonathan: Usually they’re run by the local Nepali Tibetans. It’s actually very nice because by going to the lodges, you also get to know the locals because they’re the villagers that live there. And we enjoy learning more about their culture by speaking with them. And the lodges are actually quite inexpensive and almost you could say free. There was actually too nice where because they want to us to stay at their lodge, they say, “Free, free.” We didn’t have to pay anything for staying, but they say, “But you have to eat at our place.” And that’s where they earn most of the money is from the food. And the food is actually standardized price. So, for every village, they have a set a price. So, it actually doesn’t matter which lodge you go to eat, it’s all the same price.
Jonathan: So, the only thing they compete is on the lodging price. So, often they just go free. We actually stay at one place where it’s not free, but it ended up costing only about 20 cents per person. So, it’s really negligible.
Chris: Okay. So, we’re spending a fair amount on food, but we’re not spending anything on lodging really or not very much at all.
Jonathan: Yeah, exactly.
Chris: And I’m picturing something fairly basic then, if you’re not spending any money on it. No infinity pools or…?
Annie: Not Dubai, for sure.
Jonathan: I guess for us, because we’ve been backpacking for so many months, we actually felt it was quite nice. But maybe for the regular American tourist, it’s pretty basic. You have a bed, you have blanket, pillow. Usually it’s a shared bathroom, so you don’t have your own private bathroom. The walls are usually wooden wall and concrete floor. But then the views are spectacular. All the lodges are usually situated with the best view of the mountain ranges and the peaks. It’s great.
Annie: We brought our own sleeping bag. So at night, we had our thermo underwear on, our sleeping bag. We were actually quite snug and warm.
Jonathan: Yeah. The lodges, I mean the rooms don’t have heating, so it does get quite cold when you first get into bed. But somehow as the night goes on with the body heat, it heats up the room, and by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., we all felt quite warm.
Annie: Well, we have five bodies heating up one room.
Chris: That helps. And you were mentioning carrying your sleeping bags and you had to carry some food although you had food from day to day. How heavy were your backpacks?
Jonathan: I would estimate we carry about 10 to 15 pounds.
Chris: Oh, okay. Fairly light.
Jonathan: Yeah, 10 to 15 pounds. Actually to save cost, we actually carry some food and we actually carry our own stove and pots.
Chris: Oh, you did.
Annie: And water.
Jonathan: Yeah. This way, we save on the lunch. So, we would eat at the lodge for breakfast and dinner. And we ate our own food for lunch.
Annie: Instant noodles, instant soup.
Jonathan: But actually it ended up to be a mistake because as we got higher and higher elevation, our stove did not work so well at high elevation. So, it took us a long time just trying to start the fire and cooking it. And so by the third day, I think we gave up on cooking our own food. We would buy hot water form the lodge and then use that to cook our own instant noodle or soup mix, etc.
Annie: And cookies, we bought cookies along the way to eat.
Chris: And that implies that you were seeing places to eat in the morning and then the evening, but also along the route, there were places to stop?
Jonathan: Yes. Every few, like one to two kilometer, there’s usually a lodge. So, it’s very convenient.
Annie: And in terms of the weight that we’re carrying, we’re definitely toward the lighter end, I believe. Because we’ve seen a lot of people with much bigger backpacks. But even then, I don’t think it’s a problem because if you want, there’s porters that can help you to carry your bags and different things.
Chris: Well, and what I’m hearing is you weren’t regretting going towards the lighter end. If anything, you might bring less stuff.
Jonathan: Actually I would say half of the hikers there have either guide or porter or a guide and porter. And we actually did this without guide and without porter. So, there’s definitely a lot of people carrying lighter than us because they have porters to carry all the heavy things.
Olivia: Although we did met one lady from Austria who is traveling for nine months. So, she didn’t put her big backpack somewhere else, so she brought it onto the trek and the backpack was about 18 kg.
Chris: Oh, wow. Okay.
Jonathan: Yes. And I guess this goes to another great thing about this trek is not only are there many lodges along the way, there’s porters and guides that you could hire for about $20 a day. So, a lot of people take advantage of that.
Annie: And when you hit the higher elevations and you run out of breath, there’s actually people doing business where they ride their horses and they wait for you at different points knowing that there will be some trekker that’s dying. And then you pay a fortune to catch that ride up the next link. So, there are options of riding horsebacks to continue.
Chris: Okay. And what was next?
Jonathan: After our overnight in the village of Letdar, we went to the high camp, and this is the camp right before you go over the high pass. It’s actually the steepest leg of the whole trek. And we got prepared again, early, woke up early and ready for a very, very grueling, tough day. But we were pleasantly surprised because we actually got there in half the time that they said that it would take, and we reached there around 11 a.m., and we were just so happy, and just watching all the other hikers come after us going up in slow motion.
And everyone there was so excited, but a little bit nervous as well, not knowing how the weather will be like. All the hikers that we would go into the lodge, the restaurant and then play cards and talk. And just really enjoyable day actually. We only hiked half a day and then having a half day to just rest and enjoy the companies of different hikers.
Chris: Okay. And at this point, you’re above the tree line?
Jonathan: Yes. We already passed the tree line about two days ago. The high camp is at 4,850 meters. So, just about 600-700 meters below the highest point that we will be trekking the next day.
Olivia: At this part of the day, there was just rocks and snow mountains.
Jonathan: Yes. And actually also snow on the ground.
Chris: Okay. Any animals at all at that elevation?
Jonathan: Yeah. We saw eagles flying, which is really cool because we saw them flying in circle as they go up with the rising of the air. So, it’s so graceful and effortless. It’s very spectacular to see that.
Olivia: Some people said they saw deer as well, but we didn’t get to see it ourselves.
Chris: Oh, interesting. And are these golden eagles? At this point, this wouldn’t be bald eagles.
Jonathan: No, no, no, not bald eagles. But I don’t recognize what kind of eagle they were.
Chris: Okay. Excellent.
Jonathan: So, the high camp, because you’re high, pretty much you’re surrounded by snow mountain peaks all around you, 360 degree. And so, we took a lot of great panoramic photos over there. And then because you’re so high at night, the stars just jump out. You could see the Milky Way very clear and all the constellation. And at the time, there’s also where Mars and Jupiter were closest together since the previous decade. So, we saw Venus together with Mars and Jupiter clustered together, and that was very special too.
Chris: Well, and I’m guessing if you had clear weather, you saw quite a few stars?
Annie: The whole sky.
Jonathan: It was quite cold, so we couldn’t really just stay out and enjoy for a long time. We were pretty much in our bed trying to survive the cold.
Olivia: You only really see it as you’re going from your room to the bathroom and then back.
Chris: Okay. And then at this point, you’re heading downhill?
Jonathan: No, no. The high camp, so we were overnight at the night camp, which is 4,850 meters. Then the next day, we woke up two hours earlier to reach the high pass early in the morning before the wind pick up even bigger. So, that day everyone woke up really early and we actually started a hike partly in the dark. But after 30 or an hour, the sky began to light up.
It was slow, it was cold, but it’s also very magical to see the sunrise as you hike up. And when we reached the high pass, it was around 8 a.m. and we were surprised the wind was actually already quite strong. But surprisingly, right on the highest point, there was a wooden shack where they were selling hot tea, hot coffee and dessert. And so, we got ourselves a big bottle of hot water and we…
Annie: Made our own instant soup.
Jonathan: …made our own instant soup and tea and enjoy the time up there.
Annie: What was fun was we also saw the tents where the Korean pianist, her team, had already gone up previously. So, the grand piano was actually in crates, just waiting for them to arrive to reassemble. So, it was quite amazing that that team actually assembled a grand piano on the pass, tuned it and had a concert on October 21st.
Chris: Huh. I didn’t picture when you were saying they were bringing it up the mountain, they were carrying it up to the pass.
Annie: They actually had 13 porters and horses to being everything up there. And we actually saw online photos and videotapes of the concert. And she was wearing sleeveless dress, concert piano dress. We thought, “My goodness. She didn’t even wear gloves playing. She is amazing.” Because it is cold, it is very cold.
Jonathan: And that day, it was actually a long day because after climbing up 700 meters, we had to go down about 1,600 meters on the same day. So, it was a very steep downhill to a point where my wife, she was suffering. You want to say it?
Annie: Oh, I was dying. Like I realized I’d rather go uphill than downhill.
Chris: I’ve heard people say that.
Annie: Because uphill, it’s easier on your knees and your feet. And a lot of trekkers realize when you’re going downhill, it’s such a huge strain. It’s very hard on your toes. Like my hiking boots lasted me pretty well for my trek through Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan. But going down at such a steep altitude, it’s like your toes are smashing right into the foot of your boot.
And at the end, I was limping and I’m lying until we reached the bottom. And I took off my shoe and then two of my toes on my left and my right foot were bloody bruised and I had blisters. Meanwhile, my two younger kids were just running straight down going, “Mom, this is easy. Shoo!” I’m like, “What is…”
Joani: We had to wait for them for about one to two hours.
Nathan: We ordered lunch for them.
Chris: Well, and I’m gathering that the trail was fairly well marked because you mention not having a guide and starting in the dark and them running on an hour ahead.
Joani: Yeah. We were with other trekkers too so it wasn’t too bad.
Jonathan: And actually we met an author of a book called Annapurna Trekking and he have been there every year for about what, 20 years.
Jonathan: Thirty years. And he’s on a mission to mark the trails by painting red and white flag on all the trails so that people won’t get lost. So, we just keep following the red and white mark and we did okay.
Olivia: But his trails aren’t just so that you won’t get lost. They’re actually trails that you can take to get off the road because he will lose very passionately about seeing the nature for itself without having cars beside you and all the trails he marks are usually have amazing sceneries and things you don’t get to see if you were on the road. So, that’s also a bonus.
Chris: Okay. And so, when we say the trail, there are options?
Chris: It sounds like it’s what you’re saying. Okay.
Jonathan: Yes. There are like side trials, side trips or just trails to get away from the dirt road that the jeep takes. Especially now that they’re building the road further and further into the Circuit trail. So, it’s good to take those to avoid the road.
Chris: And I’m curious, we’ve just come down off the high point here, off the pass. What was the worst moment? What was the moment that you turned to the others and said, “Who thought this was a good idea?”
Olivia: Well, maybe it was the second day when we took a shower. That was the worst. The bathroom was not very good, it was all concrete, it was a concrete wall and concrete floor. There was some hot water. It wasn’t as hot as I would like it, but there wasn’t enough to warm up the whole body.
So, you’re constantly cold and then you’re trying your best to do the shower fast, but then, by the time you finish it takes so much courage to stop taking a shower because then you’ll have to turn off the water and go to even a colder place to dry yourself and wear your clothes, and it takes a lot of courage actually. So, that was not the nicest place to take a shower. It’s very cold.
Chris: Anybody else have a different answer?
Nathan: I guess one of the hardest moments, we’ll be trekking together on the first two days because my dad is usually the one who’s soaring ahead, way ahead of us when we get left behind the dust. And we’ll just be slowly trudging up and we are losing energy and everyone getting mad at each other, getting tired and angry and complaining. Chocolate helped a lot during that time.
Chris: Of course. And then the opposite question, when was the moment you turned to each others and said, “I am so glad we did this?”
Annie: I think when we went through the lake where it was just beautiful, autumn colors.
Chris: This was the first three days of the trip or so?
Annie: It’s the second and third day. Because we live in, most of the time in Yunnan, Kunming, where it’s always such temperate climate you never see autumn there. Everything’s always green. And for us to be able to see what fall colors look like in such a grand scale, we were just like, “Ooh! Ahh! Gorgeous.” And just taking pictures along the way and then we even joking it’s like, “That looks like Japan.” Even though we’ve never been to Japan before or my kids haven’t, but they’ve seen pictures of Japan.
And then we’ve been to Cambodia and different Southeast Asian countries. They’re like, “Oh, this looks like this country. This could look like that country.” And it was just a really exciting time where we could just see a lot of common threads between different places that we visited before.
Joani: And also, where we live, we don’t usually see much snow at all. So, when we got near to the higher place where there was actually snow everywhere, I was really excited and happy because I just really love seeing snow. And I think it’s like really pretty and beautiful.
Jonathan: For me it was the first day there was some clouds in the sky. So, the snow peak sometimes you can see a little bit of it, but it was hidden or elusive. And then the next day when it was all clear and just right out there and it was such a big surprise that I just jumped up and down, just took hundreds of photos everywhere. The kids were complaining that I keep taking photos, but I was just so excited. That really made my day.
Chris: Excellent. We’re going to start to wind this down, but anything else on the…we were not quite done with your trek here. Any of the other highlights you want to mention before we get to my last questions?
Annie: Oh, be prepared to bring medicine. Like we had a medicine first aid kit ready. So, we actually somehow temperature and altitudes got allergies. I can’t explain how or why, but it’s really important to have allergy medicine prepared. And for sure Tylenol or Ibuprofen for headaches when you hit the higher altitudes. There was only probably one or two days before the high, the pass where I had a headache and then we actually went to listen to lecture on high altitude illness. And then we were like getting paranoid about every single symptom to think, “Oh, no. I’m going to die. Something is wrong.” Just to be aware and then have medicine ready.
Jonathan: I would also like to mention that the trek can be done in the easy way, but it can also be challenging for those who are really hard core trekker because there’s a lot of side trek. For example, you could trek to the Tilicho Lake which is at 4,900 meter and it’s said that it’s the highest lake in the world. So, there is many side trek, you know one to two day side trek you could take to just challenge yourself or see even more sceneries. So, I think Annapurna is really a trail for all types, all ages.
Chris: Okay. Did you have any resources you used that helped you personalize what you wanted to do?
Jonathan: I rely mostly on the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya travel guide and the Annapurna Conservation Area, they also have maps of the altitude maps of the different villages. So, you could see how far they are and what’s the elevation gain for each of the village. So, those were very useful.
Chris: Okay. What was your biggest surprise?
Olivia: For me I think was seeing a place where you can learn how to bake in Manang. They have a bakery store there in case you want to learn how to bake apple pie.
Jonathan: At 3,500 some meters.
Joani: And my biggest surprise was seeing two guys, one local Nepali and one guy from Australia who biked up the whole entire circuit.
Olivia: And biked down.
Joani: And biked down.
Chris: Oh, my.
Joani: They were incredible.
Nathan: My biggest surprise was the Nepali porters. They carry up to three to four people’s backpacks way on them, and all they have on their foot is like flip flops. Flip flops and slippers.
Joani: Yeah. They carry about 30 kg.
Annie: I think my biggest surprise was to realize you could do a concert at the pass of 5,460.
Chris: I wonder if the concert might come up and answer that question.
Annie: Oh, hats off to this group because I never imagined that someone would hold a concert at that elevation.
Chris: There was no point at which you thought, “Darn, we could have brought our own grand piano.”
Annie: Maybe Joani’s ukulele.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Nepal.”
Annie: Dal bhat.
Annie: Because only in Nepal they give you refills like almost all you can eat refills. So, there’s T-shirt that says, “Dal bhat, 24 hour power.” So, yeah, dal bhat will keep you going.
Olivia: Well, only in Nepal on the trek does a normal pizza taste the same as your Mexican burrito. They both have yak cheese, they both have tomato and they all have like this bready pastry on it. So, they taste basically the same, but the calories as well.
Annie: It’s probably only in Nepal where you have to force yourself to eat to get all the calories you could pack. I mean, all the trekkers when they came down like, “Thank God, I don’t have to feed stuff myself anymore.”
Nathan: Only in Nepal and Annapurna trek would you be so overjoyed of the food prices outside the Circuit. We were like, “Oh, this steak cost like fried potatoes.” And like, “Oh, this soft drink is so cheap.” I feel like I just came out of Switzerland.
Joani: Yeah. And I think only in Nepal, at least in this trek that you have to be forced to eat at one place. Because since you’re living there you have to eat there. There’s no other choice.
Chris: Will you mention the medicine that’s best thing you had in your pack.
Annie: Ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Olivia: Sleeping bag.
Chris: Thermos, okay.
Annie: Oh, chocolate is an absolute must for survival because you need that for the energy.
Chris: I find that to be true whether or not I’m trekking or not. So.
Annie: And also sunglasses and hat.
Annie: Oh, lip balm. Do bring lip balm. Oh, yeah.
Olivia: It’s very necessary.
Annie: Lip balm and sunscreen.
Chris: Okay. Finish this thought, “You know you’re on the Annapurna Circuit when…”
Annie: When you feel like you’ve seen sceneries from 20 countries in one place.
Nathan: You know you’re on the Annapurna Circuit when you see groups of people with all these hiking extension gear in front of you trudging along.
Olivia: You know you’re on Annapurna when you see lots and lots of American tourists.
Jonathan: You know you’re on the Annapurna Circuit when you can eat apple crumble with custard at 3,500 meter.
Chris: All right. Last question, you have to summarize this trip in, we’ll give you five words because there are five of you. Everybody gets a word. What’s your word?
Chris: Okay. In more ways than one.
Annie: I’d do it again.
Chris: Well, at least four of you understood the assignment.
Annie: One word. Cold.
Jonathan: Or people. You meet so many interesting people on the trek. Actually, meeting people was what kept most of us going because we just love to trek along them and just get to know them. And we’ve forgot that we’re trekking, just having striking conversation with all the different people from around the world, doing all very interesting things.
Annie: Then you play cards with them at the lodges.
Chris: Excellent. Well, our guest again have been the Su family from SuFamilyAdventures.com, in order of importance, but not appearance. Joani, Nathan, Olivia, Annie and Jonathan. Thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your adventure on the Annapurna Circuit.
Jonathan: Thank you very much.
Joani: Thank you.
Annie: Thank you.
Olivia: Thank you.
Nathan: Thank you.
Chris: In news of the community it sounds like there may only be four slots left for the Cambodia trip in April 1st of 2016, the Amateur Traveler trip to Cambodia. So, if you’re interested in that trip you better act now. Go to AmateurTraveler.com and look for the Book Travel tab to learn more about the trip.
On the recent episode we did on Moscow I heard from John from Toronto who said, Another fabulous podcast. Your interview with Alex brought back great memories of our family’s trip to the city in the summer of 2013. During our five day stay we managed to see most of the city highlights giving us great insight into this historical city. A couple of our observations include, you need a whole day to visit the Kremlin. It is a massive complex with several museums, the world’s largest collection of Faberge eggs, five cathedrals and many public spaces.
On Saturdays in the summer there is the changing of the ceremonial guard in late morning. One warning, there is nowhere to buy food or water inside the Kremlin. The gun department store isn’t really a department store, rather it’s a mall truck full of western tourists, prices are outrageous and there’s nothing you could buy there that you can’t buy at home. The best place to buy souvenirs is the large Izmailovsky open air market. It is a short walk from the Partizanskaya station, Metro blue line. Come prepared to haggle.
Alex didn’t mention any places to grab a meal. Yeah, we ran out of time. Moscow had some great restaurants, including Café Pushkin, a high-end restaurant located in a historic Baroque mansion. Glavpivtorg, decorated in 1950s, Soviet style office complex, a lot of fun, and Barashka, a famous restaurant specializing in traditional Azerbaijani cuisine. We found it relatively easy to navigate this city on our own. We relied extensively on the Metro.
And it is truly a sight to be seen in its own. Though learning the Cyrillic alphabet will help, and walking everywhere is the best way to get a true feel of the people and the history. We never felt unsafe, though you’ll likely get tired of policemen and security guards blowing whistles at you because you crossed the street in the wrong place or sitting on the wrong stairs, walked on the grass where you shouldn’t have and so on. No wonder the people can come across as being dower, looking forward to more great podcasts, John.
Thanks, John, for your feedback on that and your suggestions as well. With that we’ll end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have questions, send an email to host at amaterutraveler.com. Don’t forget to visit our sponsor RoamRight. And you can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram as chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.