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Monthly Archive: January 2024

10/2023 Last stop in Nepal – Bandipur

Driving Day from Hell #2! The roads are explained on the next post so hold your breath.

Bandipur is a historic, restored town (Think Williamsburg, Virginia) and no cars are allowed in the center. After winding up the mountain past the National Goat Research Center, we were dropped off and hotel staff came to get the luggage while we walked to the hotel. The hotel is a historical building with tons of steps, no shower curtain in the bathroom and questionable hot water. Great view of the mountains from here.

Morning view of the mountains and fog in the valley
View from our room window in the morning

Mark and Jutta left at 7 AM for a hike with Bhaskar to Ramcot village. Mark and Jutta walked up to Thani Mai – lots of steps. Off they went to Ramcot – beautiful scenery, lunch at a local woman’s house of hot soup. Mark got a 200 rps. discount for keeping the chickens out of the house while she cooked.

Mark after surviving the 7 hour hike to Ramcot and back.

Having Bhaskar as our tour guide for 2 weeks was great since we let him order food during dinner/lunch that we never would have tried. Spicy peanut salad and chili paneer were 2 of our favorites. He even hunted down some local beer for us to try.

11/2023 Rome and Home

Nepal is exactly halfway around the world from CO (12 time zones) so we could go east or west to get home. We found a repositioning cruise from Rome to NYC for cheap; that made the decision. We finished the Nepal tour and headed to Rome for 5 days before boarding the cruise and setting sail for NYC with planned stops in Naples, Livorno, Cannes, Barcelona, Cadiz, Lisbon, the Azores, Bermuda before finally disembarking in NYC.

We awoke to news of an earthquake in western Nepal around midnight. Mark and Susan slept thru it but Jutta felt it, heard the building creaking, and couldn’t go back to sleep. We headed out at 7 AM to beat the early morning Kathmandu traffic. Kathmandu International Terminal might win for the most chaotic airport we’ve been in.

The airport – where to begin?? Bhaskar dropped the three of us off and we couldn’t even figure out where the lines were to get thru security to get into the terminal building to check-in. We finally found the screen to tell us we needed the B line but Jutta needed to go to the A line. The line was huge! We figured it would take forever but only took 15 minutes. The one long B line broke into 2 security lines just to get into the terminal. After we showed our tickets to prove we were flying, we went through security. The mass chaos is partly caused by people seeing their friends off at the terminal.

After #1 security line, we were in the terminal and had to find the correct Qatar line – flight 649 or flight 653? Thank heavens Mark is tall enough to see signs over everyone’s head! We found the correct Business class line, checked in, got boarding passes, wound our way through the other lines and gaggles of people following the “Immigration” signs and rode our first escalator in 2 weeks after showing our boarding pass at the bottom of the escalator. The disorganized Immigration line at the top of the escalator took 13 minutes.

No gate yet but we went to security #2 which took 16 minutes in a very illogical set up. This one was belts and shoes off, computers, etc. After we cleared security #2 and put our shoes back on, we had our boarding pass stamped to prove we’d been through security #2 and then showed it to some guy 10 feet away in order to get into the gate area. Full employment! 4 people in front of us missed the stamp and had to return to the stamp guy.

Still no gate. We hung out by the TV monitor and met an American woman who was also looking for the gate. She’s from Fort Collins – Police department in Homeless Intervention. She’d done a trek to Everest base camp for 14 days.

We finally had a gate right where we were standing. When the boarding process began (no microphones, just loud voices that were not loud enough), no busses showed up to take us to the plane. We finally got to the plane and even that wasn’t organized. Told us all to line up at the steps at the back door but when we got to the bottom of the steps, that guy saw our Business Class seat and sent us to the front door. Then the flight left about an hour late because of heavy traffic. Huh?? Only one runway at this airport made for a short taxi to takeoff.

The flight landed at Doha about 45 minutes late. We went through security again to move from the A gates to the C gates but only belts taken off. They didn’t care about computers or phones. BTW … there is no one in Doha airport at 2 PM in the afternoon. Rome … here we come in search of a laundromat!

What did we do in Rome? Visited 8 different churches, ate gelato at least 5 times, bought Mark new tennis shoes after he tore the soles on the Nepal hike (Finding large sizes is hard.), did the laundry, bought toothpaste and visited the Italian version of the dollar store. John O and Sue from FC joined us in Rome before we all set sail on the Norwegian Cruise Line Breakaway.

We had perfect weather for the port visits until we got to the Azores. The wind was too bad for the ship to dock. This resulted in 6 sea days in a row from Lisbon to Bermuda.

Mount Vesuvius looming over Naples
Italian vineyards in the Fall
Sue H. and Mark in the hill town
Cafe lattes are a great way to use a cafe toilet and get a caffeine fix at the same time.
Cannes was ready for Christmas
Cadiz, Spain waterfront. I was enjoying the sun on our walk.
Another spot to enjoy the sun.
Monkfish! I have no idea how to cook one.
Cadiz fish market shrimp
More fish in Cadiz
On our stop in Lisbon we took the city bus to Belem just to buy Pasteis de Belem – custard tarts. The cafe has redecorated and gotten way more organized since 2002.
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia might be completed by 2030.
Watching the port activity was almost as much fun as seeing the cities. This crane pulled up containers about every 3 minutes.
Port tasting in Lisbon. We didn’t know we enjoyed good port until we lived in Potugal for 3 months.

Our port of disembarkation was New York City. We crawled out of bed at 3:50 AM after the captain said we’d sail past the Statue of Liberty about 4 and joined other passengers whose cabins were also on the wrong side of the ship. It was COLD and WINDY!

First, the ship passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York harbor at 4:30 AM.
Lady Liberty at 4:45 AM. We can only imagine what immigrants felt when they finally saw her after a long, uncomfortable trip.
New York City

Everyone asks – How was the cruise? Our answer: This was the first large ship we’ve sailed on (4000 passengers) and it is the last large ship we’ll sail on, voluntarily. Too many people, not enough space to find a quiet place. This particular sailing for NCL was understaffed, food was average at best, the buffet coffee was undrinkable, but it was cheap for 16 days at sea with unlimited drinks (part of the package through Costco). The port stop in Barcelona was long enough to figure out we want to return for a week or so, we tasted port in Lisbon, and we arrived back in the U.S. safely. One of the day tours reminded us that we really don’t enjoy touring with groups of people.

Summary – great 2.5 month trip with only 1 severely delayed flight, good friends, fun places, and a few stories to tell.

10/2023 Nepal – Chitwan NP and the “bumpy jumpy” roads

After we left Lumbini, we had good roads for a bit before we got to the Mahendra Highway over the mountains with the abysmal conditions. (More on the roads later.)

The tiny bar owned by owner of the chicken that the snake wanted for a meal.
Bhaskar got us to go see a python! He was attacking a chicken at the Little House; lady yelled and they got a sack to scoop him into; brought him over to the NP buffer zone to release him. He wanted to go in the direction of our rooms.
One of the elephants needed a snack during our walk.

We walked with the elephants in the afternoon to the river for drinks at sunset.

Happy elephant after a walk and a bath before we had a gin and tonic along the river at sunset
Mark and Susan with the elephants after our walk.

The highlight of the Chitwan NP safari was seeing rhinos up close and personal.

Rhinoceros staring at us

Now about the roads … abysmal is an inadequate description for them. The government goal is to widen and improve the Mahendra Highway, major east/west highway connecting India with Kathmandu. Great idea BUT their execution leaves a lot to be desired. It appears that they cut a new lane on each side of the entire highway, building retaining walls along the way, have put in some of the concrete supports for the needed bridges along the entire way or are working on it. BUT as they did this, the existing road has been destroyed – holes, no pavement, dust, dirt, it’s a disaster and no section is complete, The construction has been going on for 5 years with nothing complete. Even the village roads are damaged. Some of the bridge pieces that are “stored” in the towns next to the roads have trees growing out of them. We average maybe 20 miles an hour.

We don’t know who is managing or paying for this but I’m sure I’ll be dead before any of this road is done. Given the amount of traffic, I’m not sure why they even need to widen the road.

We started keeping track of who uses the highway. Here’s the list.

• People walking
• Cows, goats, dogs in the road
• Monkeys on occasion
• Bicycles with and without loads and carts
• Tuk-tuks
• Children in street
• Motorcycles with and without passengers and loads (passenger carrying bicycle with training wheels)
• Scooters
• Ox carts
• Busses that stop wherever
• Trucks
• Overcrowded tourist vans
• Private cars
• Farm equipment
• Calming devices and police checkpoints for licenses, taxes, registration

10/2023 Try #4 for Nepal was a charm

This was Try #4 for a visit to Nepal with a German friend, Jutta. She suggested this trip back in 2019, we think. We agreed, it was booked, COVID came along to cancel the trip in 2020 and 2021. Then chemo reeked havoc with the 2022 plans. 2023 it is! We flew from Bangkok to Kathmandu.

Everest from plane window. We were on the wrong side of the plane to see Everest so a nice guy from Arkansas used our phone and took the pictures for us.

The immigration hall in Kathmandu is chaos for figuring out where to go – DO you have a visa? Yes, we did (printed out) but we had to go pay for it. We had US dollar cash as stated on the website so we were pretty fast but the guy next to us tried to use a credit card. We finished before we ever found out how he paid.

We took the stamped sheets of pages to the immigration booth; he put a shiny visa stamp in our passports. Then we had to go thru security to get into the country before we could pick up our bags. Yes, they sent our backpack through xray. We probably should write down all the different security rules we’ve run into – take of/out -or not – belts, shoes, phones, Kindles, computers, liquids. Who knows what the rules are?? We just look for signs and follow what the person in front of us does.

We found a toilet before we headed to the luggage carousel. Took forever for Mark’s bag to show up. Walked thru Customs with our bags but they were too busy opening locals’ luggage to care what we brought.

The hotel didn’t have shampoo so we went for a walk to buy shampoo at Best Store.

Need Nepalese rupees? Just go to a money changer. They all have the same rate. Make sure you have unwrinkled dollar bills; the larger the bill, the better the rate. ATM’s worked, too.

Dashain was in full swing. It’s biggest festival in Nepal – 11 days of no work, pretty much. Anytime something doesn‘t happen “It’s Festival”.
400,000 people left Kathmandu Valley for the festival for their homes. Very little traffic, most shops and restaurants closed except for a few tourist shops. We even crossed the street with no traffic.
Jutta showed up the next day but missing her suitcase. It’s too long of a story for here but she did get it back the next day, no thanks to Air India.

The three of us had a tour guide and a driver for the next 12 days. Bhaskar and Gaya took great care of us and we saw lots! The trip spent 3 days in Kathmandu, flew to Nepalgunji and drove to Bardia NP, Lumbini, Chitwan NP, Bandipur and back to Kathmandu.

The food shops were open because eating is a big part of the holiday.

We flew from Kathmandu to Nepalgunji in the south. This is where the driving fun began! Bardia National Park was the first destination.

That’s an alligator in Bardia NP.
A few water buffalo crossing the river. These are domesticated.
Mark enjoyed a gin and topic along the river for sunset while we looked for “wild” animals.
Tea time during one of our safaris in Bardia National Park

Lumbini, birthplace of Budha and a center of Buddhism, was our next stop. Just a hint about the roads here. It took 6.5 hours to drive about 180 miles on the main east/west highway in the country. A little arithmetic and you realize we averaged less than 30 mph.

Countries are all building temples in the Lumbini Development Area – Germany, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand. The whole complex looks like Epcot! Then we walked to the canal, along the canal , over the bridge, past Cambodia temple to Myanmar temple where they had lovely western toilets in one row and hole in the ground in the other row. Even had soap!

Lumbini stupa
Buddha in Lumbini

10/23 Back to Thailand

We flew from Siem Reap to Bangkok, spent 15 hours in the Novotel at the airport, and flew to Ao Nang the next morning. 8:30 AM flights always sound like a good idea until the alarm sounds at 4:45AM for a quick shower, breakfast, check-in, security and a bus to the plane, of course! I’m trying to figure out if airlines pay less for their gates if they don’t get a jetway and just park the plane on the runway.

Now that we know how the Bangkok Airways bag drop works, it didn’t take long to drop our bags, print out a boarding pass and head to the gate at the domestic terminal.  We showed our boarding pass to get to the gate area (no security) and THEN we showed our ID and boarding pass and went through security to actually get to the gate. Our gate was across the aisle from the Coral Lounge (Priority Pass). They have a lovely massage lady who walked around and offered neck and shoulder massages to waiting passengers.  I took her up on her offer.

Ao Nang beach bar. Expensive beer at $2 each since they had a great location for watching sunset
Ao Nang beach at sunset

FAQ for us – What do we do at the beach? Not much but here’s a rundown of the week:

  • Eat breakfast and wonder why Thai restaurants never have big napkins
  • Catch up on the diary, photos, and the website IF the wifi is good enough
  • Drop off and pick up laundry
  • Hang out at the pool or more often in the pool to escape the heat.
  • Watch people at the pool. British guy by us had a bad sunburn, complete with blisters.
  • Get massages – about $30 for one hour
  • Check out the 7-11 and Watson stores. They are everywhere and have interesting snacks
  • With the time difference, we watched college football games on the phone by the pool. Watched Stanford beat CU in 2 OT
  • Watch the rain downpour some days
  • Had to scoop up a little gecko climbing on my suitcase and deposit him by the pool.

Our flight to Nepal was booked from Bangkok and we flew from Ao Nang to Bangkok, spending 5 days catching up on activities that a major city made easier. We used hotel points to stay at the Westin in the middle of Bangkok and spent a bit of time talking to the general manager and interns and restaurant manager. When you’re American and staying more than a night, we stand out. We learned a lot about the hotel and liviing in Bangkok as an ex-pat.

Some tasks we accomplished in Bangkok (other than trying potato chips):

  • Did a little shoe shopping for Nikes for Susan. Found a HUGE Adidas store, Skechers store and Nike store. A very nice guy helped me at Nike. I finally found a pair that fits. Size 8 is pretty popular! This took 12000 steps to accomplish!
  • KFC has green curry chicken rice bowls using fried chicken.
  • Cheesecake Factory is opening in December; Krispy Kreme, Tim Horton already in Bangkok along with dozens of Starbucks.
  • Applied for Visa on Arrival paperwork for Nepal and printed it out in the Business Center. One page says you’ll get a QR code – but it wasn’t on the page they tell us to bring in hard or soft copy. They need to hire me to work on their website!
  • Susan had a massage by the Robinsons grocery store – best one of the trip.
  • Changed our address so we can vote overseas for the November election. Colorado makes it so easy to vote wherever you happen to be.
  • Had our laundry done. I’m not going to want to go back to washing my own clothes.
  • Went shopping for necessities – Qtips, alcohol wipes, and wandered around the department store. I have never seen that many bras in one store. Of course, the biggest size is about 38 equivalent.
Finding a laundry is high on the list of things to do. This one was in an alley in Bangkok. Prices are by the kilo. Washed in cold water and hung in the alley to dry.
Bangkok traffic
Our favorite – Din Tai Fung

10/2023 A visit to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

We finished up in Europe and headed to Cambodia by way of Doha and Bangkok. The stop in Doha at midnight was to change planes with a 2 AM departure. The Doha airport is hopping at midnight! We checked out the Qatar Air lounge – nice! Then we flew to Bangkok to spend the day and night, not wanting to worry about making the connection to Siem Reap when we arrived or having to hang out for 6 hours in the airport after an overnight flight.

This bear is in the center of the Doha airport.

The next day we flew to Siem Reap’s very nice, clean, small, organized airport to start the Angkor Wat sightseeing. We got our Cambodian visa ahead of time online so no line at immigration.

Siem Reap is the hub for visiting Angkor Wat. We’ve been here before where we used a tour guide for 2 days of hearing about many kings and rulers and wars. This time we just hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to various temples we wanted to see again. We started every day at 7 AM to TRY to hit the coolest part of the day. It was still REALLY hot and humid and we gave up on the temples by noon every day, retreating to our Temple Hotel in the middle of Siem Reap for A/C and a cool pool. Beer was only $1 so that helped, too.
Angkor Wat temple complex is HUGE with dozens of ruined temples. The main temple of Angkor Wat was the only temple that was crowded. We wandered around the others almost on our own. Quite clearly, tourism has not returned to pre-COVID levels here although it’s the tail end of the rainy season and should have been busier.

This guide was waiting for his group. This was an example of how unbusy the temples were.
Another temple to wander around at 7:30 AM alone.
The trees and moss grow everywhere.
We think this was the tree that is featured in the Angelina Jolie movie.
These carvings all tell a story of some battle or another.
They’ve added a “Visit” route for the temple but not much info about where you are going when you get to a “Opportunities for Visit” sign with arrows pointing 2 different ways. We didn’t see any pamphlets or even QR codes to guide the visit.
I’m not sure which goddess this is.
How hot was it? At one point the temperatures were in the high 80’s with 80 per cent humidity. My glasses fogged up in the air (not even the A/C) and we both had sweat rolling down our face, neck, head and a few other unmentionable places.

We saved Angkor Wat for the last day not knowing this was a Buddhist worship day for the ½ moon. The temple area was the most crowded of any temple so far with Asian tour groups and Cambodians coming to worship. Many were dressed in special clothing and carrying flowers. The top level of the temple was closed to everyone. We read that they use timed tickets to access that level now but even that was not going on today. The Korean tour groups were out in mass! The Japanese tour groups were so polite when they blocked the way – the others, not so much!
Drivers drop off people at foot of long walk up to the pools, turn right for ticket check, and then cross the pontoon bridge to get to Angkor Wat – all in the direct sun, of course! Mark walked up a few flights of steps that Susan passed on – too hot and no rails! We saw a NZ couple and he said “welcome to the sun” as we came out of the temple.

Angkor Wat in the haze.
The long approach to Angkor Wat and this was after a walk along a sunny road.
These women were cleaning plants out of the lake surrounding the temple.
He looked very grouchy and hissed at anyone who walked by.