A Travellerspoint blog

Bus to Pokhara

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large_5550_14525927922057.jpgMy first (of three) tea/meal stop just outside of Kathmandu on the 7h bus ride to Pokhara.
I woke around 0415, an hour before my alarm. I lay in bed until the alarm, then packed up and headed down to reception around 0545. I had to find someone to let me out of the compound. The boy unlocked the gate and then led me through to the Black Olive (where I had eaten months before) and lifted the metal roller door to let me into the streets of Thamel [Thamel-travel-guide-1349394].

It was cold and dark. I sent straight ahead and didn’t take long to find my bearings. I needed the ATM but the only one that didn’t charge around USD5 per withdrawal (Prabhu Bank) had no power; the others were operating. I continued to Kantipath where I saw a line of buses.

I had read that the buses all leave at 0630 for Pokhara [Pokhara-travel-guide-1138426] but in fact they leave at 0700.large_5550_14525927843205.jpgFruit stands at the first stop on the journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara.It was only 00615 so I had some time to kill. The first bus I enquired for was priced at NPR600, which good. Forgetting tht I had a small stash of local currency from the last trip, I paid in USD then changed a little money with the conductor for tea/breakfast.

We departed soon after 0700 with plenty of spare seats. I was right not to have pre-booked the bus as it was cheaper and more flexible to just turn up. We paused at a couple of places around town to pick up more people before leaving town. One in the countryside, the traffic coming into Kathmandu [Kathmandu-travel-guide-1138212] was backed up for miles.

Further along we followed a river which was traversed by swing bridges and hand-operated cable cars (bench seats facing each other suspended on the cable; passengers may crank a handle to get themselves to the other side).large_5550_14525927907985.jpgBreakfast at the first rest stop of the journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Chickpeas, instant noodles and potatoes. Served in a bowl made from pressed dried leaves.

We made a total of three rest breaks: a tea stop soon after leaving the city, a breakfast stop and finally lunch. I ate at all of them to keep my energy levels up.

The countryside was dry and the air was hazy. By late morning, the sun had that afternoon glow. We arrived in Pokhara around 1430. It was an expensive NPR300 ride to the hotel, Travel Inn. I wasn’t as flash as the one in Kathmandu but it was cheap and good enough.

Being centrally located, it didn’t take me long to get myself out and about to change money and then locate the parahawking office (at Blue Sky Paragliding).

Having had such an early start, I rested afterwards and grabbed a light dinner. Naturally, it was off to bed early too.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Kathmandu again, after only 4 months

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large_5550_14525927117237.jpgYou'd expect AirAsia's staff to be called AirAsians, but they're called "AllStars". But looks like they're "AllStrengths" too carrying a trolley up the stairs in Kuching.
With an 1145 departure, there wasn’t a rush to get going. I left the apartment at 0900 for Mum’s and headed to the airport with them. I dropped myself off and handed them the key and headed to the AirAsia counter for quick bagdrop.

There was time for laksa at the lounge and do some housekeeping on my laptop, moving many items on to the cloud in preparation for a new computer with an SSD drive with less space. Time flies when one is busy and soon enough, it was time to board for KL where I had a 4h05 transit before my flight to Kathmandu [Kathmandu-travel-guide-1138212]. I was relieved there was no delay or cancellation as I couldn’t afford a missed connection, having booked my parahawking experience for the day after tomorrow.large_5550_14525927133893.jpg"Other" ... In all my work, form-filling and travel experience this is the second time I have seen this on any form. Guess where the first time was. Actually, same place 4 months ago.

Working through in my head tomorrow morning’s agenda, I would have to get going early before breakfast. So I bought some bread rolls, one filled with chocolate and another with red bean paste at the shop in the domestic gate area. At MYR0.95, it was cheap (for airport anyway) and it keeps well.

I continued to the international airside and spent a couple of hours in the lounge doing more computer housekeeping. Entering the gate area more than an hour prior to departure, I knew it would be a full flight.

The crowd kept streaming into the plane filling up the aisles before taking their seats. As the scheduled departure time of 1745 approached, a flight attendant tapped on her wrist watch and encouraged the queue of people to make their way to their seats ASAP.

We had some sweaty late-comers so we left about 20 mins late, which is 5 mins beyond the 15 min “on time” tolerance that many airlines use. With a long taxi to the runway, this saw us arriving into Kathmandu 30 mins late.

Once airborne, the crew distributed landing cards for Sri Lanka. Oops! The airline had loaded the wrong forms. Damn! Another hassle in that cramped arrival hall.

AirAsia has a large menu of perhaps 30 meals to choose from on some flights and I’ve been trying many in turn. Today I had prebooked the roast chicken with cranberry gravy. It looked dry and was lukewarm by the time it got to me. Surprisingly, the stuffed chicken breast wasn’t dry and was rather nice. Because I booked it so long ago, I had no recollection of the extras I had added which in this case turned out to be fruit salad and cake. That made it equivalent to a poorly presented version of a full service airline’s meal.

I had some time to rest before we arrived into Kathmandu some 4h35 after departure. This time, our aircraft couldn’t get the gate nearest to the terminal entrance. We were just next to that gate but were required to be bussed to the entrance.

Having completed details for my visa online, I skipped the kiosks and paid my visa fee at the bank desk straight away. No queues! I then completed my arrival card which wasn’t available onboard, then got to the actual immigration counter. Again, no queue - just like my previous trip.

Now, this is when it turns nasty. Going down the escalator to the baggage claim area (going through security first), there was no room to move. Our flight was not showing on the monitor yet, as all available space on the monitor and on the carousel was in use by other fights.

It took nearly an hour (after landing) before our flight showed on the monitor and our bags on the carousel. It was 1h45 before I got my bag; that’s about 15 mins faster than last trip. I made a quick exit and met the hotel driver who was holding a board with the hotel’s name (as opposed to my name).

The driver asked if he could wait for the Dragonair flight because he had another passenger. I said that it took me 2h to get out and his next guest could face the same predicament. He took me to the Grand Thamel hotel without any argument.

Approaching the hotel through a narrow alley, we pulled up towards a strong gate with no signage of the hotel visible. A horrible thought came through my head. Would it be like the guidebook’s warning about Vietnam where travellers are duped by drivers and taken to a “copy” of XYZ hotel (yes, complete with signage). I had gone with the driver who held up the name of the hotel (rather than my name). Anyone could have written up that sign and he could have taken me to any hotel. Even as a highly-seasoned traveller, doubts do crop up sometimes.

As it turned out, all was legit. I paid my room rate and went upstairs to a nice room which I’d only use for a very short night. I crept into bed at 2300 and had set the alarm for 0515 to get going for Pokhara. It was only 4 months ago when I was here in Kathmandu, so I won't be spending anytime here.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

A glamorous wedding

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Today, I experienced something different. In my half-century, I hadn’t experienced a Malay wedding. Tonight, I attended a wedding reception for Adlie and Amal. Adlie is the son of a friend and also nephew of an old school mate.

They had married on Christmas day, exchanging their vows, but today is the big dinner. It was held at the Baitulmal, which is an Islamic centre. I went with Richard and Habibah who live near me and we seated ourselves near the main entrance and the head table.

There was a bit of waiting around but we were kept entertained on the big screen with videos of the actual wedding day. They had their formal vows, change of costumes (Korean, Indian), games, Bollywood dancing and at midnight releasing sky lanterns into the night sky. As this was held in the Library, being non-religious, they were able to get away with a drag queen. I hear it was quite raunchy.

The first bit of fanfare came with the arrival of a dignitary, the second with the happy couple and the final (and grandest) was the serving of the rice. The happy couple watched a silat performance before coming in. Large bowls of rice were marched in to grand music by a parade of men in orange traditional garb.

At the centre of each table was a heavy round serving dish with several inserts of food. I had dressed up for this special occasion in a white Baju Melayu and a black/green samping. I took care not to have any curry on my brand new attire. It is rare for me to dress up and look glamorous! The dress code was formal, batik shirt or Baju Melayu. As I hadn’t brought anything suitable, I had to make a purchase anyway, so I went the whole hog with the Baju Melayu.

At the end of dinner, we stayed behind for photographs. The pelamin (stage) was beautifully set and many people took the opportunity for photos with the newlyweds. For reasons of privacy, I have opted not to post the photos on the travel blog but keep them on my facebook page.

Note:Actually, they groom's side (at least) are Melanau but the distinction between Malay and Melanaus who are Muslim is quite blurred nowadays.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Flying to see family via Senai, Johor

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Today I fly to Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] for Christmas with my family. Being the festive season, flights out of Singapore were expensive and I saved SGD80 by flying out of Senai [Senai-travel-guide-1098710] in Johor. It seemed like a good idea when I made the booking because I wasn’t working. But now that I’m earning again, it felt like a dumb idea.

As it turned out, it was relatively easy and the bigger inconvenience was getting to Senai 5h before departure and killing time till bagdrop 2h prior to the flight.

0930: Left aunt’s apartment in Katong by taxi.
0950: Departed bus from Queen St bus station bound for the causeway.
1020: Arrived at Singapore CIQ.
1030: Back on the bus for the short ride across to Malaysian CIQ.
1040: With x-rays not in use on the Malaysian side, I was out in JB Sentral! There had been no waiting anywhere. I looked for the counter to exchange my preprinted voucher for a free ride to Senai airport. The counter was nowhere to be found so I went to the bus where I was told it was no longer available. I paid MYR8 and hopped on for an immediate departure.
1100: Depart for Senai airport.
1145: Arrive at Senai airport, 2h15 after leaving the house. Unfortunately this is 5h prior to departure and 3h till bagdrop opened.

Senai airport is privately operated and it was good to see how it has even improved further. I managed find a good spot in a cafe for lunch and do admin on the computer. The outside now even has commercial shopping areas and eateries. Weather-permitting, one could walk to that mini-town next to the airport whereas during my previous visit, the airport was in the middle of nowhere.

There’s even a small hotel (Hotel Zamsaham), for people who wish to overnight before an early flight. This is great for Singapore-residents who wish to avoid the morning rush through the border to catch some flights (especially to Malaysian domestic destinations) that aren’t available from Singapore.

Time passed very quickly doing admin (including invoicing) at the restaurant after lunch. I packed up and wandered the terminal briefly buying a tube of Colgate Pro-Relief toothpaste from the chemist. That turned out to be about 40% cheaper than in Kuching at a supermarket; it was on a 30% promo but their standard price was still cheaper. Good to know that airport shopping isn’t always a con.

I tried AirAsia’s self-service bagdrop which was really cool. Scan boarding pass first and then scan pre-printed bagtag. Your baggage allowance is validated and then a warning flashes before the belt rolls away ... whirr and it’s gone. They also have an option for home-printed bagtags (A4 folded and inserted into a plastic sleeve).

I spent over an hour in the Plaza Premium lounge airside. It was a little worn, converted from the area vacated by Malaysia Airlines. The food didn’t look the best but it was pretty good, especially the awesome Johor Laksa. It was my first experience with this variety of laksa; it has a mashed fish gravy like the Penang variety but not sour. The noodle used (according to Google) should be spaghetti(!) but they used what they called mee laksa which appeared identical to Chiinese kwayteow tikus, aka lor she fun aka bee thai bak.

It was short flight to Kuching. Flying off from Senai, I couldn’t help noticing how the surrounding area has become so industrialised since my last visit.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Pilots forgot where they parked the plane?

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Before landing, there were no announcements on drugs, mandatory death sentence, prohibition on nunchuks, knuckle dusters etc. It must be optional as some airlines do make these religiously.

Leaving the gate area, there was a cordon and staff stationed at various points with an iPad/tablet pointing the direction we’re supposed to head towards. I followed that but took off to the toilet. Coming out, I noticed that I was beside the escalator down to immigration and baggage claim. Going down the escalator I noticed that it said Terminal 1 when I knewAir New Zealand is processed through Terminal 3. Fortunately I checked with some staff and backtracked upstairs. Otherwise I’d be severely inconvenienced having to come through airside/immigration to collect my luggage from Terminal 3.

Coming upstairs, I saw our pilots and warned them to check on the terminal with staff as well. So, the cordon and staff were there for a purpose but I kinda got through their net by going to the loo. They should have said “Take the train to Terminal 3” as well, because that was what was required. The Terminal 1 exit was just too near and convenient.

As for the pilots, I’m surprised they didn’t know where they had parked their plane! Terminal 1 instead of Terminal 3!

I taxied to my aunt’s for a 3 night stay. It was nice to see my cousin Janet from Scotland. In the evening, we had dinner at home with more cousins visiting. It was awesome to see cousin Patsy after about 30 years and another cousin Hong after maybe 10 years.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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