Nepal – Pokhara, The Rainy Season

Pokhara, Nepal, June 2016. Three good reasons to visit Pokhara in the rainy season:

First, the dwindling number of Western tourists from the start of June means prices are a little bit cheaper, especially accommodation wise. Food and drink too are a little cheaper with extended happy hours and special offers.

Secondly, a little less pollution and a lot less dust. As the air gets mixed up after a rainy spell so vehicle pollution gets dissipated more than in the dry season, and of course a damp ground keeps those levels of dust at bay – mind you, the locals still choke and spit as much as ever!

Thirdly, everywhere is a display of lush green vegetation, particularity in the parklands alongside the lake front. Prior to June, the place is a dust bowl, parched earth and scorched grasslands. With the rains approaching a marked regeneration of plant life and nature in general can provide nature spotters with an array of interesting subjects to photograph.

So, as the rainy season gets underway, here are a selection of nature photos: A god time for birds especially those that like to scratch around in the mud. As the lake fills so the locals get busy fishing. Reptiles of course just love the warm rains and they wake up and forage for food, especially snakes!

I suppose this snake is going to eat that lizard!

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Nepal – Pokhara, How To Survive The Tourist Bus Park And Get To Central Lakeside for 12p

Pokhara, Nepal, June 2016. Tourist buses arriving in to Pokhara will off-load passengers at a designated bus area called unsurprisingly the ‘Tourist Bus Park’, located some distance away from the tourist hotspot of Lakeside and equally some distance from downtown. Its the final stop on that marathon 7 hour journey from Kathmandu or Chitwan and as usual the local transport mafias are waiting, eager to score even before on has touched the ground! A slightly different routine from the airport malaise. The guy holding up a hotel name, selling the place’s virtues like there’s no tomorrow, will ride along in the ‘free’ taxi. Expect the room to be pricey (1000 rupees +), but if one opts to stay then indeed the taxi ride is free but the original guy holding the hotel  want’s some substantial payment before everyone parts company. If one opts out of the deal then that taxi ride will cost 200 rupees.Good news is there will be a much cheaper hotel a few doors away!

Alternatively, here’s a few tips on cutting out the middle men and saving some cash.

  1. After getting off the bus and collecting any luggage head straight for the bus park entrance, cutting a line right through the touts. Be polite, smile and say you need some exercise.
  2. At the bus park entrance turn right and walk to the crossroads intersection. Cross over straight ahead then cross again to the opposite side. On that corner a bus will arrive within 15 minutes. Around 15 rupees and 6-7 minutes to Lakeside. Alternatively, a walk to lakeside will take 35-40 minutes.
  3. The last stop is at Barahi Temple. Walk back up the small road to the main street and choose from around 50 hotels and guesthouses
  4. Namaste and welcome to Lakeside, Pokhara.

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Nepal -Prithivi Highway, Not For Travellers With a Nervous Disposition

Kathmandu, Nepal, June 2016. Arguably one of the worlds most scenic public highways, the Prithivi Highway.The road meanders among the Himalayan hills being the only direct link to Pokhara overland. Its also a road that attracts some rather dubious driving standards – plenty of risky overtaking on corners combined with the shear drop below can be somewhat nauseating, especially for those with a nervous disposition. On the other hand, its a journey like no other in terms of scenery and its probably the best way to see Nepal’s stunning landscapes. If it all proves too much, get off at the next town and walk and walk and walk. yes, its a long way to Pokhara, but actually those with the enthusiasm and energy have walked it!

Climbing out of Kathmandu Valley, the first couple of hours are the most scenic the most risky as the narrow road snakes around the hills.

Stunning landscapes and a good look at rural Nepal from the Prithivi Highway.

After about 2 hours the rod descends down in to the valley and so one can begin to relax a little as it all seems just a little less dangerous!

A much needed toilet stop for some passengers! The closer to Pokhara the greener the scenery becomes.

Bus to Pokhara Top Tips: The average ticket price should be $8. Journey time average 6-7 hours with 2 stops for food and toilet. Buy a ticket from the guesthouse or hotel. Tickets can be sold on the bus but may cost more. Holiday Travels are equipped with wifi and air conditioning. Best scenic views are on the right. 

Nepal – Kathmandu, The Prithivi Highway to Pokhara

Kathmandu, Nepal, June 2016.  An early morning stomp to the Kantipath road for a 7 Am bus to Pokhara. Its a 6 hours bane shaking, white knuckle ride to the tourist hot spot – famous for having a scenic view of the western Himalayas, famous for having the counties prettiest lake and famed for having escaped the April 25th 2015 earthquake, unscathed! Given the places proximity to the quakes epicentre at Gorkha, Pokhara was very lucky to have  survived, Largely due to development being relatively new with construction standards significantly better than elsewhere in Nepal. Saturday April 25th 2015 was a day that changed a nation forever and a day that will stick in my mind as I was on my way to Pokhara, and just near the Gorkha area when the quake struck – a date that will live in infamy. There actually wasn’t much to effect us on the bus. traffic halted for a few minutes as the ground gently vibrated and swayed – at the time I guessed it might be a landslide close by. Not until a few hours later did I realise the magnitude of what had just happened.

Piles of rubble along side neatly stacked bricks as rebuilding and repairing quake damaged buildings continues – brick br brick. And so as Kathmandu wakes up to another sunny warm day its business as usual, and quite brisk at 6.15 AM –  fruit and vegetable sellers spreading out their goods on the pavements, milk and bread sellers pitching up in shop doorways and of course tea, there’s always a pot of steaming milk tea on the go close by!

Kantipath as usual is a hive of activity with about 30 buses lined up, centred on the Hotel Yellow Pagoda.. Most are bound for Pokhara Central Nepal and Chitwan near the Indian Border. 7 AM is the departure time for each and every bus, so I’ve just about got time to grab some breakfast from the Green cafe about halfway up and some milk tea from the tea carts parked conveniently opposite my bus – Holiday travels. Fruit sellers, nuts, water, pastry and bread sellers all giving the hard sales pitch at inflated prices – water 100 rupees, just 20 in Thamel!  There’s Wifi on the bus, and it works reasonably well too. A quick update on Facebook then as the bus journey to Pokhara gets underway – about 6 hours is the norm, but of course it only takes one lorry to break down and it all grinds to a halt on the Prithivi Highway!

Here’s a few snapshots from the days journey….

Early morning Kathmandu with fruit and veg sellers pitching up on the pavements.

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Demolition of a quake damaged building, brick by brick.

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Waking up on the narrow streets of Thamel.

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Kantipath is a hive of activity early morning. Tea for 20 rupees, sweet and delicious.

As the bus rolls out of Kathmandu.

And in to the Himalayan foot hills.

 

Next…Prithivi Highway to Pokhara, not for travellers with a nervous disposition.

 

 

 

 

Nepal – Kathmandu, How to Survive The Airport And Get To Thamel

Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal, June 2016. The advantage to arriving here on a flight full of migrant workers is that the foreigners  immigration queue will be short – never fails, especially combined with a late evening arrival! Thus the formalities are quick and pretty efficient, especially for those with the correct visa payments in US Dollars at 8 PM in Tribhuvan International Airport. Having been through the process several times in recent years here’s a rundown of how to get through the airport quickly and efficiently with ‘Visa On Arrival’.

  1. Preparation: Complete the landing card before arrival.
  2. Squeeze onto the first round of aircraft to terminal transfer buses. At this airport both ends of the plane are used to disembark.
  3. Head straight for the Visa application computer terminals located on the left as one enters the immigration hall.
  4.  When the system asks for a Nepal address and you’r not sure, just tap in ‘Thamel, Kathmandu, or Lakeside, Pokhara – always works for me!
  5. Make a straight face and let the on board camera do its work. No need to bring those passport size photos anymore.
  6.  Take the printout slip to the Visa payment counter at the end on the hall. It’ll save loads of time by paying the correct amount in US Dollars – $40 for 1 month, $100 for 3 months. They will take other currencies but there will be a delay while the staff workout the cost and change if any. An ATM is located close by but may not work will all known cards. My British Halifax  credit card is one such that Nepal ATMs don’t like. There is also a currency exchange counter.
  7. Join the immigration queue where the visa will be applied. If all the above has gone to plan, it’s just a 5-7 minute wait. If you had to flaff around with money the wait will be longer by now 😦
  8. Collect your luggage. Those with just a backpack can breeze through customs without any interrogation. Those with substantial luggage are stopped and questioned.

So now we’ve arrived outside the terminal and are faced with crowds of people – taxi drivers and various other non-descriptive types waiting eagerly with offers of help – and it won’t be free. The guy holding up the Hotel name on a placard is actually nothing to do with the hotel. He will be working with a second guy who will guide you to a taxi and then a third guy will want to help you with your bags, and they all want paying! If you’ve pre-booked a hotel room with transport from the airport its most likely going to be the same routine – the guy holding up your name will want something for his hard work! And this is where I cut through the malaise and head straight for the airport gate. Yes, along the main road opposite one can pick up a taxi to Thamel for less and find a couple of reasonable cafes there too. Bargain hard for a 350-400 rupee ride to Kantipath in my case, the main road bordering the Thamel area. I’m staying at the Stupa Guesthouse (Google Map), 800 rupees double room and just a 10 minute stomp from Kantipath, access opposite Hotel Yellow Pagoda. Google Map. Not the cheapest but rooms are clean, spacious and it’s close to the buses for Pokhara. Its a 20 minute ride after 8PM about 35 minutes all other times.

Backpacker Paul’s Top Tips: Save a google map image of where exactly you want to go and show that to the taxi driver and your less likely to be cheated! Also take ear plugs if sleeping in Thamel and probably anywhere in Kathmandu – dogs, dogs and more dogs barking all night long! Bring a stash of US 1 Dollars, you may not get the correct change when dealing with larger notes.

Malaysia -Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia Flight D7 196

Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, Sepang, Malaysia June 2016. Another Air Asia flight today, this time an extra long flight to Kathmandu. Air Asia X operates the wide body Airbus fleet from KLIA2 and today”s flight at 5.30 PM is on their Airbus A330 aircraft. I’ve taken this flight several times now, a flight usually full. Full of migrant workers mostly with a few tourists to make up the numbers!.

So, another hour long ride on the Skybus from KL Sentral to the KLIA2 transport hub for 11 ringit, about £1.83. A pleasant journey in the carpeted, air conditioned bus on a hot and sunny afternoon. A little time then to reflect on the facts and figures of a Brickfields stopover:

Sleep: Pods backpackers Brickfields, 65 ringitt, £10.83 per night Pod room, 20 Ringitt Key deposit.

Eat: Jaya canteen opposite PODs Backpackers, Brickfields. Indian cuisine with veggie meals around £1.10 with tea, meat meals around £1.70  -good size portions.

Free Sightseeing: Walk around Brickfields and savoir the culture and cuisine of Little India.

Cheap Sightseeing: Ride around on the elevated transport systems to get breathtaking views of the city. Only pay for the next station along but return to your origin. Average price 25p.

Total Brickfields Stopover cost comes in at around £25 for the 2 nights, no alcohol.

Now its time to board D7 196 at gate Q4. But wait, somethings amiss here, the usually crowded waiting lounge is deserted! Yes, a heart sinking eerie silence as I try to figure out where its all gone wrong! Oh the gate is actually Q8, much further along and yes, there are crowds of Nepali migrants, in loose formation trying to cram through the narrow door into the departure lounge. 4 hours to Kathmandu as the sun begins to set. Routing up towards Penang and Langkawi then over towards Bangladesh and then Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Here’s a look at Penang and Langkawi from 30,000 feet.

Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, Brickfields, Oh That Food!

Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, May 2016. When it comes to  casual dining in Southeast Asia, I’d say Malaysia tops the rankings by far! Better than Thailand because the variety is diverse and better than Singapore because Malay food is considerably cheaper – and of course food always tastes that much better when its cheaper, in Asia. Brickfields hits all the right culinary spots as far as I’m concerned – variety, quality and price. Oh and its all local food too, no Western gunk for miles around. Well, actually that’s a lie – head on into NU Mall and KL Sentral for MacDonald’s, KFC and the rest of it!

So, while on my Brickfields stopover here’s what I look forward to after a no frills, low cost Air Asia flight – a really good and cheap local nosh up. Veggie dishes around £1 while meat and fish will fetch a staggering £1.60 – £1.90. Yes its pretty good value and unlike the rationing in places like Chiang Mai and the Philippines, here you need to tell the server, “that’s enough rice thank you”.

 

Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, From The Mono Rail

Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 2016. On a stopover between flights – sometimes that’s the way it happens with Air Asia. The next cheapest flight might be a day or 2 away, but its still worth the wait, even taking into account costs of spending that time in downtown Kuala Lumpur. More specifically in my case Brickfields.

So, with limited time and eager to make good use of it, I’m going to see the city by riding around on the mono rail, which quite conveniently is located in Brickfields, right opposite the very place I’m hanging out in, well, almost! The track runs around the city centre and towards Chow Kit. Buying a token to the next station from Brickfields is sufficient to return back to Brickfields, around 50 minutes later by my estimation. I did a similar routine earlier on the LRT with some pretty good scenes so I’m hoping this ride will be just as good.

Yes, the ride is good. Just look at these awesome Kuala Lumpur city skyline scenes. 50 minutes round trip back to Brickfields, just right to kill a little time on that KL layover.,

 

 

Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur,The Elevated View

Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 2016. I’m on another Brickfields stopover with more time to kill than usual. Since I’ve already stomped around Kuala Lumpur several times in the past this time I need to find something of a different perspective, something that will cost next to nothing and something that wont consume a great deal to time. Well, that’s really quite an easy solution – ride around on the elevated rail systems and see the city from above the traffic, the nose and the tourists.

Just a short 6-7 minute stomp from Brickfields to the transportation hub at KL Sentral. The easiest way to actually get there is to navigate through the NU Sentral Mall by following the signs – its all straight forward but may  seem daunting at first glance. When at Sentral one can take the Light Rail Transit system that reaches out to the nearer suburbs. Today, I’m taking the Kelana Jaya line towards the suburb of Petaling Jaya and back again. Yes, its a good line to see those city skyscrapers and get a brief glimpse of Suburban Kuala Lumpur. Here;s a few snaps from the 40 minute journey to Asia Jaya and return.

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So there you have it – a quick and easy alternative to grab those unique Kuala Lumpur city views. Next let’s take a ride on the Mono-rail towards the downtown….