A Summary of Month One – From North Korea to Bhutan
Our bags were packed and we had sold everything that doesn’t hold a sentimental value to us. Any material belongings, we gave to friends and donated to charity. We were ready and so excited to start the adventure of a lifetime – to visit every country in the world. Our first month took us from North Korea to Bhutan.
From North Korea to Bhutan – Here we are in Xian, China
The drive to the airport was carefree; we were about to embark on an epic journey to go everywhere!
As we approached the check-in for our first flight from Melbourne to Beijing, we were notified that it had been delayed by five hours. Not ideal, but that’s how it goes. Things don’t always run as smoothly as we’d like.
We know that a positive attitude is essential for this entire trip and we’re going to encounter many occasions where things don’t go to plan. This is just the first of many to come.
Our first stop, Beijing was really a gateway for our trip to North Korea. Our five-day organised tour with Young Pioneer Tours took us into North Korea on an overnight train from Beijing to Pyongyang.
We were pleased to meet the other travellers in our group, many different nationalities who had stories and things to share on the journey to DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea).
I guess it takes a different type of traveller to be interested in visiting this part of the world. Our trip in North Korea was so eye-opening and certainly busted all those myths that we’d heard prior to entering.
We packed so much into our trip in such a short time. We visited all the main sights, including the DMZ, the Kumsusan Palace, and the small towns of Kaesong and Sariwon City. We rode the deepest metro in the world in Pyongyang and we had a chance to shop and spend the local currency in a local department store.
Our strict pre-planned itinerary saw us visiting the big bronze statues of the past leaders, watching a circus, and riding roller-coasters inside a fun park. We ate many traditional Korean meals like hot-pot, duck BBQ, bimbibap and lots of kimchi!
We drank local beer in the park, surrounded by locals, and enjoyed the soju, the Korean whisky on many occasions.
Our highlight, however, was the celebration of passed Kim il Sung’s birthday which involved mass dancing across the city. This is something that has to be seen to be believed.
Thousands of North Koreans wearing local dresses and dancing to the sound of a blaring stereo. We found this whole experience so different and unique, we caught some of our experiences in this country on film.
We felt compelled to write a post about why should you visit North Korea. We had many questions about the secretive life inside this country and our local Korean guides who were with us at all times seemed to answer them.
Some of the tougher questions we asked them like “ do you have a prison system for people who break the law?’’ was answered without actually answering the question. Their response was “if you break the law, you’re just held in a room and pay a fine and then you are set free after a few days”. Hmmmmmm.
This trip reminded us that travel is the best education and travelling to North Korea can give you an insiders view of how things are in the country.
Finding enlightenment in Tibet
Tibet may not be recognised as a country (it’s been annexed by China), but in our heart, it holds a special status, hence why we decided to travel here as part of our adventure to #visiteverycountry.
We arrived at Lhasa and relaxed the first day to adjust to the high altitude, 3600m above sea level. We had bought some Chinese medicine for acclimatization in a small pharmacy in Xian, China the day before.
The picture of the Himalayas and some green plants on the cover looked legitimate, and in bits of sign language and our google translate app on our phones talking to the pharmacist, we were convinced we had the goods to avoid getting altitude sickness upon arrival.
“Remember to take photos with the eyes”, was the first thing our guide said to us. We left the hotel and walked towards the old town of Lhasa near Barkhor Square. This area has redefined spirituality and devotion.
We were instantly drawn into the crowds of pilgrims, praying, chanting, and shuffling in a clockwise direction around the Buddhist Jokhang Temple.
From North Korea to Bhutan – We fell in love with Lhasa in Tibet
The sky was clear blue and many colours so vivid upon the backdrop of snowy peaks in the distance. The endless humming of locals chanting, rolling rosary beads in one hand, and spinning prayer wheels in the other sounded peacefully hypnotic.
The only nuisance seemed to be the Chinese military guards stationed around the town, marching between the peaceful pilgrims and armed with guns. The reason for their presence here seems pointless.
Potala Palace was next and we were mesmerised by the sheer size of this place and the treasures held within the walls.
Leaving Lhasa, our journey over the next few days took us high into the Himalayas range. We crossed high passes, turquoise lakes and winding roads as the days got colder, the wind grew stronger and the air became thinner and small movements would leave us breathless.
We were all anxious to reach the undisputed highlight of the trip, Everest base camp or Chomolungma as it is known to local Tibetans.
Seeing Mt Everest reveal its peak through the clouds was an experience that we won’t easily forget. There’s something about nature in the purest form that draws instant emotion.
We were lucky to visit a small monastery (the highest one in the world) and be welcomed into the humble living area by two monks who shared some stories with us about their simple, yet happy lives.
Our night was spent at a simple guesthouse nearby, and admittedly a very tough night’s sleep for all. The cold temperature and the altitude at 5400m were an uncomfortable combination, warranting terrible headaches for us all. The reward for this was a silent and crystal clear morning, with incredible views again of Mount Everest. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We started our descent from the highest passes of Tibet to drive most of the day to rest for the evening in a town very close to the Nepalese border. Our guide helped us transfer over the border to Nepal the next morning, leaving us with wonderful memories of Tibet.
We were happy to be returning to Nepal. We were welcomed by smiling locals, lush green countryside, roads still as terrible as we remember and simple, yet wholesome food. It felt like a warm hug. We spent the next eleven hours bumping around in our jeep transfer to travel 150km to Kathmandu. We made it eventually.
The following morning, we left the bustling city of Kathmandu by local bus to travel to Chitwan National Park.
We woke up to warm mornings surrounded by tropical green plants and vegetable crops everywhere. What a stark contrast to the cold days we’d recently spent in Tibet, where there were no trees or plants in sight.
Our time in Chitwan was relaxing, filled with wildlife viewings and some downtime. It was nice to reflect on all we’d seen and done over the past few weeks.
From North Korea to Bhutan – Exploring the national park in Nepal
We returned to Kathmandu and spent the next four days eating great food, drinking good coffee and using the good wifi connection whilst we started making plans for our travels for the next few weeks.
The flight over the Himalayas from Kathmandu to Paro was enough to put a huge smile on our faces. It was amazing. We touched down at the airport and instantly felt calm. It has been an eventful month from North Korea to Bhutan, but now we were here.
The airport was almost empty, no lines at immigration and already the men and women looked so smart in the traditional local dress of Bhutan.
We met our local guide and driver from Bamba Experience, jumped into our brand new SUV, and our private tour of Bhutan had begun. Bhutan is green, clean, and peaceful. There are road signs everywhere that have positive slogans written to encourage drivers to be careful and always think of others and safety.
The speed limit is capped at 40km p/h for safety as the roads are quite windy and nobody really seems to be in a hurry here.
From North Korea to Bhutan – Finally in Bhutan
The next four days were spent seeing the sights on a private tour, accompanied only by our guide and driver, two young Bhutanese guys, they were fantastic. The nature and beauty of this country is the big drawcard and we felt enlightened learning about Buddhism religion here.
A highlight for us was hiking two hours to Tiger’s Monastery and exploring the beautiful temples inside. The views were incredible and passing by thousands of colourful prayer flags along the way only enriched the experience.
A special mention has to be made for the food in Bhutan too, as it was delicious.
We left Bhutan with warm hearts, huge smiles, and a promise to ourselves to return to this gorgeous country again one day. If you ask us, we definitely agree that Bhutan is worth the money.
A coffee lover, history junkie, former tour guide, and endless optimist. The mastermind of logistics and chief navigator for Very Hungry Nomads, two women on an adventure to visit EVERY country in the world. Marty is a social butterfly who describes her life as “just livin’ the dream".