Like all great adventures our plans will be subject to change. We have a rough plan of where we want to go and what we want to do. We have the main attractions that we’d like to go to in mind and we have a budget, which we’re going to have to stick to if we want to get home again and not end up living out our days begging on the streets of Delhi.
We plan to fly into Bangkok, Thailand where we will spend a couple of days before pottering around central and northern Thailand for about a month. On the itinerary is Kanchanaburi, and the red-brick ruins of Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, before heading up north to Chiang Mai where we hope to learn to cook some staple Thai food, help to look after some elephants and hang about with a local tribe.
After a few weeks of exploration we’ll head back into Bangkok and find a bus that will take us across the border into Cambodia. Here we will stop in Siem Reap and visit the largest religious complex in the world, Angkor Wat. From what I’ve read Angkor Wat is the upshot of several centuries of Kings of the Khmer civilization competing to build the biggest tomb. Hundreds of thousands of their loyal subjects laboured and probably perished to build this gigantic network of temples, but I’m sure they’d all be pleased to know that a millennium later the fruits of their labour are still there and looking very photogenic. We also want to see the Killing Fields where in the nineteen seventies the psychopathic Khmer Rouge government under Pol Pot murdered 3 million Cambodians. I’ve no doubt that this will be a harrowing experience but I think that you have to see both the highs and lows of what the human race is capable of in order to be a better rounded person. The capital of Phnom Penh will probably be our last stop before crossing the border into Vietnam.
We’ll probably start our exploration of this amazing country in Ho Chi Minh City or as it’s better known to the wider world, Saigon. Apparently the rail network in Vietnam is efficient and air-conditioned, and we hope to use it to our advantage, working our way north through the country whilst stopping off at places such as Da Lat, Halong Bay, Hue and Da Nang. We’d like to see some of the history of the Vietnam war and hopefully visit some of the remaining hill tribes whilst we’re here. 95% of Vietnamese road traffic are scooters or motorbikes, so we think a motorbike tour will be the best way to cover ground in the time we have available. Eventually we will end up in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and the headquarters of the communist forces during the wars. We hope to visit the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh whilst we’re in Hanoi, before crossing the border into neighbouring Laos.
We plan to spend a little more time in Laos, relaxing and taking in the wildlife and scenery. the Plain of Jars, Four Thousand Islands on the Mekong, Luang Prabang and Vientiane will all be taken in whilst we’re in this country. The possibility of seeing the Irrawaddy river dolphin somewhere along the Mekong river is something that really appeals to Hollie who is obsessed with dolphins and whales. From Laos we will cross the border back into Thailand and head down south to Phuket and the surrounding islands. We want to do as much diving and snorkelling as possible round these parts. I’d like to get some kind of diving licence as it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to do it. We also plan to go and see the island where the film The Beach (you know, the DiCaprio one) was filmed. After around three months of travelling South-East Asia we will return to Bangkok for the final time to catch a flight north-west to Kolkata, India.
We can’t decide whether to stay in Kolkata for a couple of nights as the temperatures in April when we arrive could be as high as 40 degrees celsius – too hot for Tommy. If we can’t hack it we’ll either fly or catch an overnight train to Darjeeling. Darjeeling is a former British East India Company colony famous for it’s tea plantations that cling to the steep hillsides. We hope to visit some of the tea-making places and drink our own bodyweight in Chai. We also want to ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Mountain Railway which is about fifty miles long and gives you a good idea of the scale of the tea production in the area. Compulsory on this leg of the journey will be a trip up Tiger Hill before sunrise, so that we can see the sun coming up over the Himalayas and the third-highest mountain in the world, Kangchenjunga, and if we’re lucky, Everest as well. We plan to spend around a week in Darjeeling, just chilling and taking in the Himalayan vibes before moving on to Varanasi – a sacred river city where a lot of Indian people cremate their dead in funeral pyres on the river. From there we hope to complete a triangle of visits to Jim Corbett National Park, where there’s a good bet you can see tigers in the wild, Rishikesh, where the Beatles went to meet the Maharishi and write material for their White Album, and to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. After this we hope to spend a week or more in Himachal Pradesh – a mountainous region in the north-west, where amongst other attractions we hope to see the Dalai Lama’s gaf and trek up one of the Himalayas. Finally we’ll either fly or get the train down to the beach resort of Goa for some chill time before flying back to Blighty. I’ve whizzed through our India itinerary a bit because we really have no idea where we’ll end up. India is such a massive country that we can’t expect to scratch the surface in a month. On top of this the temperatures in central and south India will be as high as the mid forties – as a result we’ve decided to steer clear of a lot of the obvious places to visit like Delhi and Jaipur.
Of course, none of the above is a given. The places, route and duration of each visit is likely to change thousands of times before we get home and this is one of the charms of travelling. I’ve just written this page to give you an idea of what we plan to do.