Top Three Monasteries in Bhutan

bhutanBhutan is a land lost in time, a country where happiness is put first and environmental policies rule the way.

Bhutan’s incredible history and unique culture make it one of the most fascinating countries to visit in the world. The landscape, culture and architecture stay in the heart and minds of all those who visit her.

Steeped in a history and culture of Buddhism, Bhutan is home to a whole host of monasteries. Some are small, some are large, but all have their own charm and stories to tell. Below we have listed or top three favourite monasteries inn Bhutan.

Taktsang Monastery

Taktstang Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries on the planet, largely thanks to its position. Sitting high up on the side of a cliff, Taktstang Monastery or the ‘Tigers Nest’ as it is often termed, is one of the most photographed buildings in Bhutan. The monastery is closely linked with Guru Padmasambhava who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. To get to the monastery visitors must climb over 2,000 feet! However, the architecture on the inside is worth every breathless step and you’ll be amazed with the colours and views from the top.

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong or ‘Palace of Great Bliss’, was built in 1637 and is one of the biggest and most popular dzongs in Bhutan. The dzong was the brain child of Zhabdrung whose remains are still mummified within the temple. The first king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, was officially crowned at the dzong in 1907 and the building stands high in the hills at 4,430 feet! The area is very beautiful and tourists are allowed into the large and incredible Kuenrey (assembly hall). Even today, the dzong is the winter house for Bhutan’s spiritual leaders.

Drukgyel Dzong

Drukgyel Dzong is a fascinating building. Although much of it is just crumbling ruins now after a fire swept through the building in 1951, the dzong tells an incredible story of Bhutanese history that all tourists seem to take to heart. Constructed in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the building was built to commemorate the incredible victory that the Bhutanese warriors had over the invading Tibetans during the period. Make sure to visit on a clear day as the views leading up to the dzong are some of the most spectacular in the region.

For more information on Bhutan see our partner sites here and here.

Sizing the Golf Ball Market

golf-balls-beginnersThe golf ball market is a massive industry. I mean think about it. Every single round you play you use a golf ball and most people start their round with a new ball. Then take into account how many of us actually go and lose balls throughout the round either in the bush or water and cannot retrieve it. The beginner probably loses about 6 balls every round too. I am actually going to do some research into the golf ball industry and see what sort of numbers are involved here. Must be trillions of $ worth and the leaders in golf balls are both Titleist and Srixon. By far.

I used to play golf for a living, albeit poorly and when playing in European Tour events every player (whether contracted or not) is given at least 3 dozen Titleist ProV1’s to use along with gloves and caps etc. I mean 36 balls you’re given to play 72 holes with (or 36 for some who miss the cut). It’s crazy! That alone is $150 worth of balls for every player in a field. Normally the field is 156 players so that takes the total to $23 400 for one event! Now bear in mind there at least 45 tour events throughout the year taking that total to $1 053 000 for the year. JUST on golf balls and JUST on the European Tour. Incredible.

Move to the PGA Tour and more importantly majors and suddenly players will probably be getting 5 or 6 dozen balls per player. Then take into account brand new Titleist ProV 1 golf balls that each player can use on the driving range and around the practice greens and you’ve got 10’s of 1000’s. Imagine if a tour professional had to revolt and say “no ways, I am going to use a Pinnacle golf from here on”. I wonder how many beginners would love that and possibly buy more of them because one of their favorite players is actually using one!

I remember back in the day golf balls used to cost next to nothing and now it’s just surged almost out of control. Just madness

Well there is good news, most golf balls don’t cost that especially if you’re just starting the game of golf. Have a look at this review from Golf Assessor and find out the best golf balls for you as a beginner. Some quality offerings available for roughly $2 per ball, peanuts!

To Island Peak or Mera Peak?

island-peak-climbSo in April I was in Nepal for the 4th time. I just love Nepal, the people, the mountains, the culture. It really is a special place.

I was there with some colleagues and clients to meet our local guide team and climb Island Peak – one of Nepal’s most famous trekking peaks. Before we got there though we spent two awesome weeks trekking in the Goyko and Khumbu region, with a special visit and night camping at Everest Base Camp.

We arrived at Island Peak base camp on the 20th April and spent a day training with technical gear. To climb Island Peak you need to be able to use a fixed rope and crampons.

The technical elements of Island Peak include a glacier crossing, which today has two crevasse segments that require the use of ladders to cross (thanks to last years Earthquake) and a climb up a 150m icy headwall.

In past seasons the headwall has been a lot smoother, but today it is heavily broken up and scarred – compliments of climate change and wind shearing. The final segment includes a traverse with a 1000 foot exposure on either side to the table top summit.

We climbed with four highly experienced Sherpa, two of which had topped out on Everest twice and had many other impressive summits under their belts – including Ama Dablam and Cho Oyo.

Long and short is that Island Peak is a tough challenge. The altitude which maxes out at just under 6,200m is a challenge for most people, but the climb segment does indeed involve some climbing experience. I would definitely say that if you are a novice, it is better to start on a peak like Mera, which although higher in altitude, is a truer example of a trekking peak.

Once you have cut your teeth on Mera Peak or even a peak like Aconcagua in Argentina, then you can take on Island Peak.

If you are afraid of heights and big exposure then I would say give Island Peak a miss.

For everyone else, if you have the determination then I would say go for it! Check out Kandoo Adventures Island Peak offer or Kandoo’s Mera Peak trek.

For free information on both these peaks click here and here.

Starting a new passion – GOLF!

golf-new-passionOkay ladies and gents. I have some big news!

Not really, but I do have a new passion. Golf. Yes you heard me right. The guy that loves adventure travel and trekking has taken up the most mundane sport, hitting a little white around a huge field (ahem… course!) trying to get it into a ting hole.

But hear me out.

I tried playing golf about 20 years ago and completely hated it. Not only could I not get the ball off the ground, there were times that I couldn’t even make contact.

All that changed last week when I went to the driving range with a mate for the sole purpose of having a laugh. I should say that this mate is a rather good golfer (he plays off a 5 handicap, which at the time I thought was a bad thing, but apparently anything under 10 is good, and 5 and below is amazing).

Long and short of it is that we spent a few hours hitting balls and drinking beer, and with his close instruction I actually started making decent impact. Okay, I’m no Tiger Woods, but according to him I have a natural swing and my ball striking is really good for a beginner.

After the range I didn’t really think too much about the experience, but a couple of days later I felt a craving. I need to feel plastic hitting steel and watching a white bullet disappear into the distance. I gave my mate a call and we met up at the range again that evening.

This time I got 100 beginner golf balls for myself and started hitting. Whack! Thwack! Whack!

It was AMAZING! Super enjoyable.

Suffice to say I am hooked!

In fact I have already bought myself a driver, compliments of the reviews from Golf Assessor and I am looking at signing up to a public golf course in my area. I really need to get out onto a course and experience the real thing first hand.

I will be posting about my golf exploits here so look out for them!


Various trekking options in Nepal


The tiny mountainous nation of Nepal is famous for its stunning trek routes. Hordes of tourists every year flock to two main areas – the Everest region and the Annapurna region. Both regions are by far the most popular for trekking and it’s easy to see why. This article will briefly look at each region and the treks on offer.

Everest Region

Everest Base Camp trek

Made famous as the route taken by Hillary and Tenzing on their famous journey to the summit of Everest, the Base Camp trek is Nepal’s most popular trek. Following the Khumbu Valley, you begin by passing lovely cultivated fields and Sherpa villagers before heading into the mountains proper where you will see some incredible vistas and some very old Buddhist monasteries! Be sure to summit Kala Patthar as the view of Everest is the best in the region.

Gokyo Lakes trek

If you have more time, we think this is the best option in the region. Taking a similar route to begin with, the trek veers off after Namche and heads towards the three holy lakes at Gokyo. The stunning blue lakes should not be missed and neither should the wonderful vistas from atop the Cho La pass. When you come to Base Camp remember to check out the infamous Khumbu Icefall that has been so deadly to mountaineers.

Annapurna region

Annapurna Circuit trek

Considered to be one of the greatest treks in the world, it deliver a diversity of environments that is simply incredible. You begin in sub-tropical conditions in the lower meadow areas before ascending up into the more forested alpine section. Make sure to look at the stunning vistas of the Himalaya when trekking over Thorung La pass – they’re simply incredible. You then continue down into the more arid section known as the Mustang region before finishing your trek.

Poon Hill

This is the perfect option if you’re just starting out your trekking adventure. It is also a lot shorter than the Circuit trek and is a good option for people with less time in the region. The trek takes you to the summit of Poon Hill where you get fantastic views of the surrounding areas such as Annapurnas, Machhapuchchre and Dhaulagiri.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek

Slightly longer and more difficult than the Poon Hill trek the route takes a very similar path to begin with as it summits Poon Hill. After marveling at the views, the trek then heads down into a deep valley known as the ‘Sanctuary’ because of the mountains either side towering above it.

Various Route Options to Machu Picchu

machu-picchu-trails-and-routesThe most iconic and popular routes to Machu Picchu are of course on the Inca Trail. However, there are other route options. Below we have provide a summary on all the available trail options up to Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail:
The Classic Trail: 4 days: 45km. By far the most popular route to Machu Picchu, the Classic trail is the historical pilgrimage route that has been in operation for hundreds of years. A beautiful trail with a lot of steps! Can get crowded in the dry months between May and September. To hike the classic trail you need to be with an accredited tour company and you also will need a permit. These sell out very quickly, so make sure you book months in advance.

The Short Trail: 2 days. 13km. This trail is by far the shortest to Machu Picchu and is a great option for the less energetic of trekkers.

The Salkantay (combo) trail: 6 days. 65km. The ultimate Inca Trail! Combines both trails so you get the classic Inca trail feeling along with mountain scenery!

Alternative Routes:

The Lares Trail: 4 days. 33. This little hiked trek is a fantastic way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Inca Trail! You’ll be able to get to know the local culture and meet the locals.

Choquequirao – 9 days, 69km trek: The Choquequirao ruins are brilliant and should not be missed! This is one of the few treks that can be shortened or lengthened depending on your energy levels. As this is the longest trek up to Machu Picchu it is probably best attempted in the dry season from May to September.

Huchuy Qosko – 3 days, 20km trek: Fairly short and easy going, this trek is best hiked between May and September. It offers up beautiful scenery and the Huchuy Qosko ruins should be visited if possible!

The Salkantay Trail: 5 days. 55km. As it is generally at high altitude this a fairly difficult trek. Like the Lares trail, the Salkantay trail is fairly crowd free. The reward for this high altitude trek is getting up close to see Nevada Salkantay.

The Vilcabamba Trail: 5 days. 62km. Vilcabamba is the toughest trek to Machu Picchu and is therefore for experienced backpackers. The trail offers up amazing scenery!

The Junge Trail: 4 days. 60km (cycle) 15km (trek). If you’re a thrill seeker then this is the trek for you! The trail has a long and fast downhill cycle trail, zipwire and rafting! Sound like you?

See here for a complete overview on Machu Picchu hikes.

To book your Machu Picchu trek with a great little operator, see Kandoo Adventures.

How to get to Kilimanjaro!

flights-to-kilimanjaro-airportOkay, so you have decided to climb the Roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world!

Apart from all the required preparation of getting fit, securing your gear, travel insurance and visas, one of the key things to plan for is how you are going to get to Kilimanjaro.

In this article we talk about flights to Kilimanjaro, and ways you can ease the burden on your wallet.

First off we have some good news and some bad news.

Let’s get the bad news out the way.

There are not many direct flights to Kilimanjaro, and there are none from the UK or US. There I’ve said it!

The good news is there are a few options to get to Kilimanjaro International Airport.

The most convenient and often affordable choice for travellers from the US, UK and Europe is to fly to Amsterdam and then catch a direct flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport with KLM. This route departs daily at around 10am and arrives in Kilimanjaro around 8pm.

If you can’t get to Amsterdam then it is possible to fly into neighbouring airports in Kenya (Nairobi) or Ethiopia (Addis Adaba), and then catch a short connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). These options are great if you are flying from Southern Africa, South America or Australia. The only downside is that delays on these routes are common. More of a concern on these routes is the frequent reported issues of lost or delayed baggage. To avoid any upset we recommend wearing your hiking boots and carrying all critical gear in your carry-on luggage. In the unlikely event that your baggage is lost or delayed you can at least rent or hire some items to begin your climb on time.

Other direct routes to Kilimanjaro include a Qatar Airways flight via Doha and a Turkish Airlines flight via Istanbul. Both these flights do not occur daily and have relatively long delays and unsociable flight times. In the case of the latter the flight leaves Istanbul at 2am and departs Kilimanjaro at 3am.

Finally it is possible to fly British Airways via Nairobi to Kilimanjaro.

If you are planning to visit Zanzibar we recommend booking an open jaw ticket which has you flying out of Dar Es Salaam.

For more information on flights to Kilimanjaro Airport see here.

For information on our recommended Kilimanjaro tour operator see here.

Your clothes for Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit in detail

annapurna-packing-listHere are details of the clothes you will need on a trek to Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit. Many items will be available in Kathmandu, Lukla, Pokhara or Namche Bazaar, but genuine labels will not be and cheaper equipment will often be insufficient for the kind of cold to which you can look forward.

Layering is crucial as the weather can change radically along with the altitude. Lukla is at 9,383 feet and Kala Patthar, 18,373 feet. There are also the seasons to consider. There are three layers for you to think about.

Here is the packing list for clothes on the EBC and packing list for Annapurna Circuit.

The base, first or next-to-skin layer is highly important at the higher reaches of the trek but will likely see little use at other times. If this layer fits tight to the skin, airflow is reduced. It should be of high-wicking material to enable moisture to escape.

The second, insulation layer is best constructed of fleece material. You may be able to live without a second layer for your legs. For your torso, a Polartec 200 Fleece Jacket is lightweight, warm and breathable. The 100 range is too light and the 300 range, too heavy.

The third, outer core layer comprises a warm, waterproof jacket and trousers which are indispensable at the higher reaches. A top-of-the-range option is the North Face Nuptse Jacket while the North Face Resolve Jacket is more affordable. Think of the Nuptse as a lifetime investment – it will last for years. Trousers should be warm, fleece-insulated ski pants as supplied by Helly Hansen, O’Neills and Trepass.

In addition to these three layers, you will also benefit from trekking shorts for the evenings. Rain might be encountered, particularly around the rainy season from June to September, so bring lightweight rain gear or, at the very least, a poncho. Jeans are to be avoided as they take an age to dry out and are uncomfortable for trekking. Cotton is to be shunned because it absorbs moisture.

There is also the matter of headwear. You cannot contemplate this trek without a hat that protects the head and neck against the sun. It should be light and capable of fitting inside your daypack. A beanie, otherwise known as a headband, will be appreciated when it grows cold in the late afternoon or early evening, particularly as you draw closer to Base Camp. Berghaus and North Face are very reputable suppliers. Sunglasses with a minimum of 80 percent light reduction are another must-have, for example those by Julbo.

Gloves are necessary. Outer gloves should be ultra-warm, waterproof and durable, for instance Dakine’s Gore-Tex gloves. Inner gloves ought to be lightweight and quick dry, like Pearl Izumi’s Thermal Lite Gloves, which can be used without outer gloves if the weather is not too severe.

Your feet are what will get you to Base Camp and back again. Boots should fit correctly or blisters, lost nails and sore feet will follow. The test is placing your foot in the boot with the laces untied and then sliding it to the front; you should be able to insert a single finger down the back of the boot. Full leather boots have a tendency to be too heavy. Trainers can be worn in-camp. Not to be forgotten are four or five pairs of trekking socks, with Coolmax being one provider. A further two pairs of thermal socks will be used on the colder days near Base Camp. Smartwool thermal socks are an example.

Get further issues on trekking in Nepal from TAAN.

The Clothes to Bring on the Inca Trail

machu-picchu-packing-listThe Incas were highly-organised and created many paths throughout the Andes, which network they named Qhapaq Ñan. The most famous stretch is Camino Inca – the Inca Trail. The vast majority of people accomplish this trek in four days, walking for between six and nine hours a day for the first three days and around two hours on the final day. After passing sparse alpine meadows, dense, damp tropical jungle and freezing mountain passes, the trek ends at the magnificent Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. You could alternate from perspiring in a jungle to getting caught in a shower of rain to braving a freak snowstorm. If you were to ever undertake this most memorable journey, what clothes should you bring?

The key is to have clothes for all the conditions you may encounter, ranging from the intensely hot equatorial sun to cold mountain nights, while minimising weight. Hence you should make like an onion and dress in layers rather than one thick woolly pully. An example configuration is zip-off trousers, a fleece jacket and a T-shirt. Warm clothing for nights is essential. Most clothes can be purchased in most Peruvian cities that see many tourists, including fine and cheap alpaca jumpers. Warm and inexpensive locally-made hand-woven mitts can be bought in Cuzco.

You will want a hat not only to protect you from the sun during the day but also for when you sleep, to preserve your precious bodily heat. Ideally, it should cover your neck. Thermal underwear is a must-have. You will need six T-shirts – one for each day and two in case you get wet. You should have two pairs of lightweight long trousers, one short- and one long-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts. If you intend to swim at the hot pools of the town of Aguas Calientes, pack a swimsuit. Towels can be hired. Let us not forget the underwear.

Walking so much, footwear is critical. It should be sufficiently sturdy to withstand the trek – you do not want it to fall apart. Boots should be comfortable and lightweight and provide good ankle support. Do not rush out to buy new boots, because worn-in boots are more comfortable. Given the near-inevitability of rain, waterproofing may be worthwhile. Somehow, porters get by with old shoes with holes that appear to offer little in the way of support or grip, but you are not likely to exhibit so much endurance.

Cotton is to be avoided as it absorbs perspiration, hindering evaporation and so remaining damp. Cotton socks for one are to be shunned rudely. If socks contain the Coolmax brand of polyester, nylon or Merino wool, they will have wicking properties, aiding evaporation. Liner socks are an option.

There is usually some rain on the trail throughout the year, and you do not want to be hiking for hours in wet clothing. If you can ignore the fact that you think you look silly, a poncho is ideal. A cagoule will keep you dry – but not your daypack. Cheap, throwaway ponchos that cover everything including your daypack can be acquired in Cuzco for about one dollar. Some people go so far as to take waterproof trousers, but a poncho covers most of your legs.

It is best to not wear clothes that are brightly coloured or sport logos, as this marks you out as a tourist. Cuzco and the Inca Trail are tourist-friendly, but you would still prefer not to attract that sort of attention.

You will sustain karmic benefit if you bring clothing that is used to the point of being worn out, as it can be donated to the guides and porters. Examples include outerwear, gloves and mittens, socks, pile clothing, tops and bottoms, long underwear and even gaiters.

And finally, do not forget the shades.

Click here for a complete Packing List for the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

machu-picchu-trek-inca-trailMachu Picchu is an incredible archaeological site. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and voted as a finalist in the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Inca site is thought to have been built in the mid 15th Century as an estate to the Inca emperor at that time.

The site was abandoned by the Incas about a century later due to the Spanish Conquest, and only later discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Since then Machu Picchu has received world prominence and is visited by 100,000s of tourists every year – so many that the Peruvian government have implemented regulations that restrict access to 2,500 visitors a day.

There are a number of trails to Machu Picchu. The most popular and famous is the Classic Inca Trail that lasts between two days at the shortest to five days at the longest. Permits on the Classic Inca trail are limited to 500 a day (half of which are taken by guides and porters who support trekkers).

Alternative routes to Machu Picchu are fast becoming popular though. The Salkantay is probably the second most popular trail, that also offers trekkers the opportunity to intersect and join up with the Classic trail. The Salkantay typically takes six to seven days.

The Lares and the Vilcabamba are less popular routes, but just as authentic. In fact the latter is the route taken to the real ‘Lost City of the Incas’, Vilcabamba.

Lares provides trekkers with a great opportunity to see local Andean communities that have managed to maintain the authenticity of their ancient cultures.

Once at Machu Picchu you might want to consider climbing Huayna Picchu, the large mountain behind the ruins, that provides an incredible view over the city and the Sacred Valley below. The climb is steep and tough, but totally doable. Make sure to get permits early for this opportunity as there are only 400 available per day.

Here are various trails available for the Machu Picchu Trek or click here for detailed information on the region.