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, 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, Brickfields Again

Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 2016. Another Brickfields stopover between flights. Those who have been following my travels will know this is the third such stop over this year and sadly the last as I make my way back towards England via Nepal and Oman. So, with my next flight late afternoon on Thursday I have a little time to grab a few unique photos and of course savor those culinary delights that is a big part of Kuala Lumpurs character. Here’s the post related to the first Brickfields stopover earlier this year – its all pretty much the same except this time I have a few more hours to kill. Post for the  First Brickfields stop here.

So, how does one kill time on a short layover in Kuala Lumpur?  Brickfields, also known as Little India, isn’t big  and can be covered in an hour. Follow the famous stone arches and the red brick road to a street full of culture, colour and vibrancy anytime of the day – but especially at night when the pavements are occupied with casual diners. Yes, Brickfields is a great place for that delectable curry or tandoori chicken at around £1.70 a meal. Vegetarians get the best deal around here – amazingly tasty food for around £1.10. Google Map, KL Sentral and Brickfields.

Next, go and take a look at the preserved historic area of china town. Just one station along from Brickfields and KL Sentral – alight at Pasar Seni the gateway to another section of Kuala Lumpur’s melting pot of culture, the Malay Chinese. Another relatively compact area and a stroll around here shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Its quite a tourist hotspot with the main attraction here being an old market, a new market and Petaling street – full of shop-houses, eating and a mecca for souvenir hunters. Google map, Pasar Seni and China Town.

If energy levels are still high, grab a free city bus to the twin towers.A few stops along and should take around 20 minutes, although I’d avoid rush hour! Constructed for the Petronas company these giant skyscrapers are pretty awesome externally and internally! This place is  the epitome of opulence and makes an interesting hour of people watching. For about £10 visitors can ride up to the middle sections and take an elevated view of the city. Behind the towers is a park with free swimming pools and dancing fountains. Now your probably out of time so jump on the subway at KLCC, just in front of the towers for a 20 minute ride back to KL Sentral and Brickfields.

Another attraction is the KL tower, a little off the city centre track but worth a look if time permits. Another pretty awesome structure with more of an emphasis on it being a tourist attraction. There are of course several more things one can do and see in Kuala Lumpur but as we’ve run out of time they’ll have to wait for another time!.

Personally, I’ve stomped around Kuala Lumpur several times over and so on this stopover I’ve done something a little different – tune into the next blog and see what that was 🙂

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Philippines – El Nido, That Was the Place That Was

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. So, as this visit to El nido draws to a close time to look back and reflect on whether the stay here was a price worth paying?
El Nido is a dump! that was my initial view on arrival after having ridden on a crowded bus for 7 hours. A view exasperated a few hours later when I couldn’t find any local food to eat and a view exasperated even further with the realisation the place is over run with Westerners and of the boozy kind at that – boisterous, raucous, how little sleep do I need? So, well and truly stuck in a tourist trap, forced to eat tourist food with drunken tourists and with accommodation on the pricey side here, all the ingredients for less than  satisfactory trip! Why did I come to El Nido? because all the blogs and research says “it’s a wonderful place to be”.
undeniably the scenery offshore is stunning.That wow factor kicks in immediately then wears off after about an hour as one gets used to the array of lush green islands, shaded blue sea and a blue sky. The town itself actually does have a mildly picturesque element to it – that is when the hundreds of tourist boats have left the beach front. The small crescent beach fronting the harbor with a few local fishing boats anchored gives the place an air of tranquility from 10am until about lunch time. Then its boom boom base and boobs from the likes of the reggae bar and others as the peace is shattered among the other competing bars here.
Well, it took a few days but life in El Nido has improved significantly. No longer do I have to suffer the expensive tourist food after finding a local canteen and the discovery of a small beach where I can hangout and be lazy and not see another drunken tourist for hours! Oh and drink coffee while tapping into the Wifi and its a pretty decent wifi at that. The only people to hangout with here are the Filipino family that run the place – Garden Bay.
So, with basic costs of hanging-out averaging around £12 per day (£9 room, £3 food and drink) I’d say this trip to El Nido was worth the price to experience those natural wonders off the Palawan coast. The cost will of course escalate for those eating tourist food 3 times a day and taking the rather pricey tours around the bay, not to mention the alcoholic intake. But then from my observations most visitors here only stay 1 to 2 days before move on.
Will I return? no. On the whole, its an expensive stay (not dorm) compared to other developing towns – Cambodia’s Sihanoukville for example is half the price and that includes Island hopping tours! Its just this time I got lucky with the guest house allowing me my own coffee and letting me eat their food for free – Austria’s Place, Real Street. Awesome, from the king of frugality go, check it out!
Having traveled extensively across Asia, I’d say there’s better value elsewhere. Indonesia for example offers much better value for money if one is seeking island hopping and a subsea experience. Consider a trip to Southern Cambodia – value for money here is unrivaled with Island hopping trips and Island camp-outs – happy travels 🙂

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Philippines – El Nido, Beyond the Bay is a Lonely Beach

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016.  A hiking path of sorts leading North from Garden Bay towards the El Nido Airport. Its a walk on the wild side that’s for sure as this part of the coastline is exposed to the wide open ocean. A strong wind driving waves, crashing against the slate rocky outcrops. One thing is immediately noticeable – the absence of human life. No tourists, no locals and actually no nothing! The last shack was a couple of  miles back and so the only thing to share all this with is a few crabs scuttling around the rock-pools, the odd lizard scurrying past and a rather evil looking hornet!

I’d say this is the perfect getaway from El Nido town and all those tourists. One is inclined to strip naked and take a quick refreshing dip – No, not this time, maybe next. The beach isn’t perfection with seaweed, shrapnel and a little washed up garbage on the back edge, but for a sake of a short hike over some rocks, through a small jungle It’ll do for me.

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The Stats

While its nice to gain feedback from readers, once in a while I’ll give feedback too. So to that end here’s a look at yesterday, easily the best day of this week in terms of views. Australia, top of the leader board followed by USA with Britain coming third. Hmm, seems I don’t have a great readership in the UK, something I shall try to remedy in the near future! In the meantime if you have any feed back or ways I can improve (for free) then please drop me a message :). So, a big thank you to all of you dropping by and a big thank you to my reader in Austria and my reader in Greece for tuning in – I hope you’ll come by again soon.

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Philippines – El Nido, A Kids life

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. El Nido may not be the complete Filipino cultural experience I might have hoped for but here’s a look at life through the perspective of the towns youngsters – no Xbox, no Playstation, no Ipad! These  kids are adept at making their own entertainment.

These kids hanging out on El Nido corner look content enough. To them, I’m known as Saint Paul!

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Kids around here have to learn life skills quickly as this photo shows. A young boy, about 12 yers old, balances the boat while pulling in a fish to cook for dinner. This shot reminds me of ‘Mowgli’ from the ‘Jungle Book’.

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I captured these ragamuffins playing in a old sidecar contraption, behind the scenes in El Nido town.

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From the town beach kids can be seen larking around on the tourist boats to the amusement of passengers waiting to sail – a morning and evening ritual it seems, or do they just like showing off?

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Captured these in the slum area. Kids around here are experts at making their own entertainment – just like I did growing up in  late 1970’s England.

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I have to admit not being too pleased at seeing what this kid was up to – catching swifts on the town beach.

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And finally, these happy, carefree kids insist on a photo – so I had to oblige. Again captured behind the tourist scene, El Nido town.

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Philippines – El Nido, Boat Trips

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. El Nido may be a tourist trap but lets not forget why that is. The towns proximity to the many Islands that are teaming with marine life is what entices thousands of tourists to El Nido., but with prices double that of Cambodia and Indonesia its not going to be a budget trip by any means. here’s some info ascertained from my recent stay…

Island hopping, what to know. Prices are published everywhere one looks in El Nido so there isn’t the ticket tout scams that’s commonly experienced across the rest of Southeast Asia, No negotiations, the price you see is the price you pay, or is it? In addition to the published price there is a 200 peso tax to pay and as the boats have to anchor off the islands, especially at low tide, passengers will have to swim or a best wade to that paradise beach – rent or purchase a dry pack to keep those gadgets and cameras dry!  Renting a dry pack for 1 day is 150 pesos but its really just splash proof according to the shop girl and not for on water activities. Plastic pouches are on sale every where for 150 pesos but again only splash proof. You’ll need to pay around 700 pesos for a 100% waterproof backpack! The sea bed is littered with shrapnel from corals, rocks etc so wading barefoot might be painful – renting rubber shoes is another 150 pesos. Good news is lunch and a snorkel mask are included in the original ticket price.

The boats are packed to the rafters, shoulder to shoulder with predominantly white tourists. Life jackets are provided and there are a couple of boats that have a kayak strapped to the bamboo outrigger, but who gets the Kayak in an emergency is anyone’s guess!

The tours will leave around 9.30 am and return around 4.45 pm, sometimes as late as 6 pm. There are so many boats and tourists its not uncommon for ones boat to wait in a queue at some islands and lagoon destinations.

The boat to Coron takes 6 hours, leaves from the town jetty and costs 1400 pesos for a one way trip. Any tour desk will gladly sell a ticket and give reliable advice. Coron Island Google Map

 

 

Philippines – El Nido, Paradise for Cheap

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. Paradise, well I think so but alcoholics might not agree! Its a spot I’ve stumbled upon while hiking North away from the town, following a dirt track around the bay and through a small jungle and a heap of garbage for about 20 minutes. A nice cool breeze here since the place is exposed more to the ocean. The beach is clean, no garbage on the back edge and a collection of hammocks swaying gently under coconut palms – empty. infact the whole place is empty, devoid of boozy tourists and not a bouncing boob in sight. This looks like a fine place to spend a while, all that,s missing is a radio playing BBC’s ‘Dessert Island disks’ as wavelets  gently lap at the shoreline. I’d say this is as close to paradise visitors can get to in El Nido without having to take an expensive boat ride everyday. So, everyday from now on I shall come here, pick out a hammock, listen to the ocean and watch the swaying palms, all the time keeping an eye out for falling coconuts and someone to collect the money!

In a week, no falling coconuts and I didn’t get asked for money. I’ve seen about 3 tourists, well behaved too. There is a shack with food served although its a rather pricey option  as one would expect being on a beach but the coffee is good, fresh brewed and less then a quid, British monetary slang. Oh and the place has Wifi which is good for about 15 minutes at a time. Yes, this is my kind of Paradise all right and when I nee food well I can just hike back to town where earlier I managed to find a local canteen of fine local food. The place is called Garden Bay, its run by a Filipino family who are happy to welcome any visitor to their resort. So, for the price of a coffee one can stay here all day, swim and even snorkel -yes they have the kit too. Google Map And they really don’t mind if all you want is a coffee.

On the way to paradise one can take a look back across the bay and see El Nido town nestled at the base of that big gray cliff.

Views from my paradise. Whats your idea of paradise?

 

Philippines – El Nido, Golden Hour at Corong-Corong

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. El Nido’s West facing coast means only one thing – sunsets, and good ones too. With those islands turning to shadows against the golden hue of sunset, well, what can one say other than awesome. And once the suns down, up comes the boom boom base for a night of debauchery. Sex on the beach is quite popular around here I gather – I mean the cocktail.

As the sunsets in the Philippines… Which is your favorite image?