The Everest Base Camp Trail with Your Thai Girlfriend
The Everest Base Camp Trail With Your Thai Girlfriend – A Rough Guide
Last month, I did what many expats in this region might deem impossible – I took a Thai girl into a cold weather, high-altitude environment, and we walked several kilometres each day all the way to end of the Everest trail in the Nepal Himalayas.
What follows is a travelogue interspersed with my observations on what happens when you put a Thai girl into an environment where she is forced to deal with 2 things she’s not used to: cold weather and walking.
It all started one night when we watched a Thai travel show about Nepal. The show followed a Thai guy around while he hiked all over Nepal, including the Everest area. My girlfriend was enthralled both by the scenery and the snow (it was her dream to
see snow at the time), and with me having wanted to go to Nepal since I arrived in Asia, we decided to look into going in October. My girlfriend was able to negotiate 3 weeks of leave from her office job and we began to research the trip. I wanted
to do the Everest base camp hike, a 10 – 12 day hike that involves walking 5 to 7 hours a day, sometimes through bitter cold and snow. I think that my girlfriend is reasonably open-minded and adventurous for a Thai, but the amount of walking
did concern me at first. This is a girl who will often walk clear across the skytrain station to take the escalator instead of walking up a flight of stairs. Now she is going to walk 5 hours a day up and down mountains? “But it’s
different” she says and points out the views and dry, clean air. We decided to give it a try and booked our tickets to Kathmandu for early October.
Thamel is the main travelers hang out in Nepal’s capital. If you can imagine a larger, more polluted Khao San Road with more touts and hassles, that’s Thamel. However we would be staying here for a couple of days as it’s
the easiest place to sort out tickets and buy cold weather gear for the mountains. Unless one wants to walk through a Maoist-rebel controlled area and add another week of walking to the trek, getting to the Everest trail involves a domestic flight
to a tiny village called Lukla. We were able to get our tickets to Lukla the same day we arrived in Kathmandu, giving us a day and a half to shop around for heavy jackets, gloves, and all of the other stuff that is not needed in tropical Southeast
Asia. Thamel has everything you could ever need for a trek and it’s all inexpensive. After buying supplies and renting 2 down sleeping bags for the costly sum of 35 rupees (20 baht) a day, we still had time to take in a little bit of Katmandu’s
old city before going back to our hotel and trying to pack all the stuff we just bought.
After a long day at Katmandu’s domestic airport, our 10:10 am flight to Lukla finally takes off at about 4:30 pm. The landing strip at Lukla is maybe 500 meters long, built right into the side of a mountain. The small twin otter plane
lands, skips, and slides a bit until it reaches the end of the runway. It’s far too late to start walking so we walk around and find a guesthouse near the airstrip. It’s probably around 10 degrees by now and I think the reality of
the conditions hit my girlfriend. After dinner, she puts on her tights, sweatpants, thick wool socks, gloves, 2 sweaters, and hat, climbs into her sleeping bag and tells me to put a blanket over the sleeping bag! Just a bit over the top I think,
considering we haven’t even started the trail yet. By morning I can see that she has thrown off some of her things, and I had become a little hot in my sleeping bag too. Lukla sits high on a 2800m mountain overlooking a valley to the south
and the view in the morning is awesome. Small (for Nepal) peaks ring the village, each of them with a thin covering of snow. As we are getting ready, she tells me to hurry up because she wants to start walking. That marked the first time I had
ever heard a Thai girl say that she wanted to walk.
The first day of walking started out easy with a long descent from Lukla down into a valley. The river flowing through the valley, the thickly forested mountains and the big yaks (the cousin of the Thai buffalo) made for an enjoyable intro
to the trek. Even better, there were long stretches of trail with no other tourists except ourselves. The trails are rarely empty though, with the local Sherpa people herding their yaks and transporting massive loads of goods from village to village.
After lunch in a village called Monjo, we passed the official entrance to the Everest National Park and got our first view of the high Himalayas ahead of us. After a long but enjoyable flat section of trail, the climb to the next village, Namche,
begins. This climb, unknown to us at the time, was to be the most difficult section of the entire trail. For hours the trails leads up the side of mountain with no end in sight. It was dark and we were completely miserable by the time we got into
Namche and found a guesthouse. Looking back on it, going from Lukla to Namche in one day was a big mistake.
Namche is the capital of the region and has restaurants, bakeries, bars, karaoke, and snooker. We spent the next day there resting and recovering from the first day on the trail, as well as adjusting to the altitude. Namche is over 3400 m
above sea level and it’s here where the first symptoms of altitude sickness may appear. We were mainly suffering from sore muscles though, and I had some pain in my knees which I think was from carrying our heavy pack. Conveniently, a local
we had met on the trail the previous day showed up at our guesthouse looking for a job. We quickly agreed on a daily rate for carrying all of our gear. I thought it was a reasonable price because it was apparent that he had enough English and
knowledge of the area to act as our guide as well. He met us at 7 the next morning and we set off for the next village, Tenebogche.
The first half of the trail to Tenebogche is a flat track cut into the side of the mountain, an easy and enjoyable walk with views of some Himalayan peaks along the way. The trail drops down into a valley and goes through the village of Phunki
Tenga (3200m). After lunch here, we began the long climb to Teneboche. This is another brutal climb, though not quite as bad as the ascent into Namche. After numerous rest and photo stops, we dragged ourselves into Teneboche at around 3pm. Teneboche
(3800m) is a special place and ended up being the highlight of the trip for my girlfriend. The views of the mountains are the biggest attraction, with some of them being so close it seems like you can reach out and touch them. Teneboche also sports
a gorgeous monastery with many friendly monks. Late in the afternoon they perform a very relaxing ceremony with lots of gongs and horns and chanting.
So how was my girlfriend doing at this point? Better than I expected. The walking and the cold were almost non-issues so far, but the food was another story. We both found Nepali food to be very bland. Perhaps the best way to describe it
is that it’s like Indian food, but without any of the flavor. We found this to be true of the food in both the local’s-only places and the guesthouse dining rooms. Of course the guesthouse restaurants also serve pseudo-western food,
but this is almost as bad as the Nepal food. Thais being Thais, this was a big issue for my girlfriend and there were more than a few occasions where she would go to bed hungry rather than eat the food on offer. Next time we’ll pack a bottle
of fish sauce.
The next stop on the trail is Periche (4200m). We set out from Teneboche early in the morning. Once again, the trail drops down into a valley, crosses a river, and then gradually climbs for many hours until Periche. It couldn’t have
been much more than 0 degrees when we left Teneboche. My girlfriend had a mini-panic attack and stood there shivering, repeating “cold cold cold” over and over. I had a bought a 1 kilogram yak wool jacket in Kathmandu that had been
much too hot to use up to this point. I put it on her; problem solved. We stopped for lunch at Somare, a small village at 4000m. The final climb to Periche is another bastard, but the scenery makes up for it. The altitude hit both of us during
this climb, but we felt ok after arriving in Periche and downing a hot chocolate or two. We stayed in a guesthouse with a group of expat Indians now living in California. Myself being a native Californian, we got along great and spent many hours
chatting in the dining room. A few of them had also lived in Bangkok for a few years and they stated that they really missed it. We started talking about how great a bowl of hot khao tom or tom yam would be right now, but it soon became too painful
too think about. They sang a few songs in Hindi, and my girlfriend entertained them with the Loi Kratong song. Also worth mentioning in Periche is the medical clinic. Friendly western doctors run the place and they have prescription and non-prescription
drugs at very cheap prices.
The next morning we woke up at dawn, enabling me to take some of the best pictures I took on the entire trek. Periche is in a valley surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains. We started walking north on the valley floor and began the first ascent
of the day after about an hour. It wasn’t an especially steep or difficult climb, but the altitude ensured that it was going to take us awhile. The air above Periche is cold and thin and seems to suck the energy right out of you. We had
to stop and rest every 20 or 30 meters. After another hour of this, we arrived in the village of Dughla for lunch. Some people stay the night here, but our porter suggested we should push on to the next village, Lobuje. From Dughla, the trail
goes straight up a rocky mountain for over an hour, and the altitude, the cold, and the wind make it a tough climb. This is followed by a short descent, and then it’s an hour walk over a glacier to Lobuje at 4900m. Lobuje was the first
place on the trail where we ran into a large number of tourists, most of them staying the night before making the final push to Kala Pattar, the end of the trail. Lobuje was also the first place where the snow started to fall, much to the delight
of my girlfriend. After a difficult night of sub-zero temperatures, the next morning there was a blanket of snow across the landscape. And it was after 20 minutes or so of playing and frolicking that my girlfriend realized what I had known long
ago – snow sucks. Yes, it may be suay, but it’s also fxxxing cold!
After a breakfast of boiled eggs and hot chocolate, we began the hike to the final village of Gorak Shep. The trail continues up the glacier for an hour or so, and then there is a steep mountain to climb. Once again, what would be a fairly
short climb around sea level turns into a marathon at 5000m. We had to stop and rest a few minutes every 10 to 20 meters we ascended. After a long rest at the top, we continued to Gorak Shep. This stretch of trail has the most stunning mountain
scenery I’ve ever seen. Several 8000m mountains, massive glaciers, and frozen lakes ensured many photo stops. The snowfall that we had the previous night made it even more beautiful. We must have stopped a bit too much in fact, because
we ran out of water an hour outside of Gorak Shep. No problem, still plenty of clean snow on the ground. We finally got into Gorak Shep (5150m) 4.5 exhausting hours after leaving Lobuje.
The only thing left to do now was to climb Kala Pattar, a “small” 5550m peak which has THE view of Everest at the top. We weren’t up for a 400m climb today though, so we decided to go up the next day. Neither I, nor my
girlfriend, have ever experienced anything like the 2 nights we spent in Gorak Shep. I’m sure it was around 20 or 30 below 0 at night, and it seems you can’t sleep more than 2 hours without waking up with a throbbing head. I felt
really sorry for the guys on organized tours who were camping outside. My girlfriend said she wasn’t cold once she was inside her sleeping bag, but I was. Must have been the 5 or 6 layers of clothes and the 3 pairs of socks she was wearing.
The next day the plan was to climb up Kala Pattar and come back down to Lobuje. The clouds were rolling in as we walked to the base of Kala Pattar, the winds started, and halfway up it started snowing horizontally. Our porter and I were trying
to decide whether to continue up or not when my girlfriend promptly ran back down the mountain without saying anything to us. We decided to go down and try again tomorrow. Back at the guesthouse, my girlfriend said she got scared because her hands
were frozen. The cheap gloves we got in Kathmandu didn’t have much use up here. We resigned ourselves to another fun-filled frozen night in Gorak Shep.
The next morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. After 2.5 hours of gentle prodding on my part, and fits of crying from my girlfriend, we finally reached the end of the trail at the top of Kala Pattar. The view from here includes
the mountains of Pumori, Everest, and Nuptse, the Khumbu icefall and the route to the Everest base camps, a couple of giant glaciers, and several frozen lakes. My girlfriend was a little freaked out because she couldn’t feel her fingers,
but our porter calmed her down and rubbed some of the feeling back into her hands. We spent an hour talking pictures and celebrating the end of the trek. I told my girlfriend she might be the first Thai woman to ever make it to the end of the
Everest trail. That might be a stretch, but I can’t imagine too many others making it all the way here. I had enough battery left to make a short movie panorama of the entire view with my digital camera.
Overjoyed that we had no more high altitude ascents to make, and that we didn’t have to stay in Gorak Shep again, we zipped back down Kala Pattar. After lunch we started back to Lobuje, and got our first taste of what coming back down
is like. Quite an enjoyable experience, as you can concentrate on the scenery and laugh about certain parts of the trail where it took you 2 or 3 hours to go up, but only 20 or 30 minutes to come down. My girlfriend made it a point to smack the
snow and the ice with her walking stick because “it made me cry.” Upon arrival in Lobuje, our porter informed us that the place was completely packed out with tourists. The only guesthouse with a vacancy wanted $20 US for the night,
roughly 5 or 6 times the price we had been paying so far. Our porter said this is a frequent problem in Lobuje, with lodge owners jacking up the price to whatever they think they can get. We decided to walk down to Dughla and try our luck there.
Our porter went on ahead and was able to get a room for (still overpriced) 500 rupees ($7). We had a dinner of chips and talked about how we went from Kala Pattar (5550m) to Dughla (4600m), dropping nearly 1000m in one day.
The next night was spent at Pangboche, a small village between Periche and Teneboche. We made a visit to the medical clinic in Periche on the way, where the doctor was surprised to see us. She said that after we had passed through on the
way up, they had heard a report of a Thai woman being brought back down on a horse due to altitude sickness and assumed it was my girlfriend. We joked that my girlfriend is still the only Thai woman to ever make it to the end.
From Pangboche it’s a long day walk back to Namche, with a stop at Teneboche to take a few more pictures and soak up the atmosphere. We left Namche at 7:30 the next day and arrived in Lukla around 2:30. The airline office in Lukla
informed us they had one more plane scheduled to go back to Kathmandu that day, so we dashed to the airstrip and just made it. We said goodbye to our porter / guide, a great guy who certainly made things a lot easier for us. He said he was going
to walk back to his village south of Lukla to visit his wife and daughter. We were the only people on the flight back to Kathmandu. Once back in Kathmandu, we decided we had to have something resembling real food (and I had to have a beer). Our
guidebook said that Yin Yang restaurant, on the main drag in Thamel, has a Thai chef, so that was our choice. Eating real Thai food after 12 days in the mountains was euphoric. The chef came out to chat with us a couple of times. She and her sister
had been there for 6 years. Most of the ingredients they use have to be imported from India (which explains the prices). It was the best post-trek meal we could have hoped for; 1200 rupees well-spent.
The Everest trek was a fantastic experience for both of us, and the walking wasn’t much of an issue. For my girlfriend, the food was the toughest aspect of the trek, followed by the cold. For myself, it was those same issues in reverse.
This is all minor though, when weighed against the whole experience of walking in the Himalayas. Interestingly, my girlfriend has reverted to her old ways and still walks across the skytrain station to the side with an escalator to avoid the stairs.
Even though we live less than a 5 minutes walk to the skytrain, she still insists on jumping onto the back of my motorcycle when she goes to work in the morning because it’s “too far.” They can adapt short-term, but old habits
Wow, it is amazing to do something like this with a Thai woman, truly amazing!