Tibet is now officially closed. Even groups who have just been issued perfectly good permits are now being turned away at the border. Over the last few days the rumours at the Lonely Planet Tibet forum have turned into concrete accounts from the tourist agencies in Kathmandu and Chinese border towns with Tibet. The Land of Snows, a reliable source of travel information about Tibet, has confirmed the news as well.
Now Plan A has now been completely thrown out of the window, I’ve spent the last couple of days panicking about the content of Plan B. At first I thought I’d substitute the Tibet week with a speed tour of Vietnam. I was attracted to this mainly because I thought I could fly to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (whatever you want to call it) then take the train all the way from there to Beijing, thus further satisfying my desire for long distance overland travel. But I found myself stumbling straight from one bureaucratic nightmare to another. A perfect catch-22 exists with the Hanoi-Beijing train: you need a Chinese visa in order to buy the train ticket, and you need to show your train ticket (proof of how you’re entering the country) to get a Chinese visa.
This last bit of bureaucratic nonsense led me to a severe case of the screaming abdabs and then, after a bit, to giving up the idea of Vietnam. Instead, extremely reluctantly, I am admitting defeat and booking a flight straight from Kathmandu to Beijing. Flying bores me terribly, but it seems like it can’t be avoided.
At least this means I’ll have a proper amount of time in Nepal. I wouldn’t have chosen to go at this time of year – the beginning of the monsoon season – but I’m looking forward to exploring the country. Kathmandu (see above picture) sounds completely bonkers and Pokhara (below), with its mountain-ringed lake, looks stunning.
But I’m not going to plan it too much. I’ve got a few days accommodation booked in Kathmandu, then I’ll just see what happens.
Meanwhile I’ve got my Mongolian visa to get, and now I need to score a Chinese one as well before I leave – that was going to be sorted out through the Tibet trip, but not any more. Tomorrow morning I’m off to the Mongolian embassy. There’s always a hidden trick in visa-getting, a secret piece of information you need or a hoop they expect you to jump through yet withhold vital information about. With Mongolia, the trick is that you’ve got to pay them £40, but they don’t accept cash, cheques or cards. Instead you’ve got to make a bank transfer into the embassy’s account. Last week I made two trips to the bank – one to make the transfer and one to get evidence of having done it, because you can’t get a print out of these things straight away, that would make it too easy – so now it should be a fairly straightforward process.
Fingers crossed. Only a couple of weeks to go now. If you’d like to follow the progress of my trip, don’t forget you can sign up for email updates by entering your address in the box at the very bottom of this page. I’m planning to keep this sporadically updated while I’m away.