Review: Gaju Suite Hotel, Kathmandu

When looking for accommodations in Thamel, Kathmandu, make sure you do your research well so you don’t end up in a ‘hotel’, which, really, is just a guesthouse, like we did. 

The first ‘hotel’ we stayed at doesn’t have a lift (and we were given a room on the 4th floor), doesn’t have an inverter air conditioner so we had to endure single digit temperature at night, we had to wait for 15 minutes (or more) for the hot shower to heat up, and breakfast takes forever to be served. It was unbearable I cannot wait to leave that place. haha

Anyway, on my remaining days in Kathmandu, I was very relieved when I stayed at Gaju Suites. It is conveniently located a few minutes away from Garden of Dreams, but far enough from the noisy and chaotic side of Thamel. There’s also plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, ATM & foreign exchange close to the hotel.


The hotel is within a business center, and the lobby is at the ground floor while the rooms/suites are on the 3rd and 4th floors. The restaurant-bar, Reef, is at the 5th floor. The building has a small lift, so guests don’t have to worry about their heavy luggage. A staff also assists guests to the rooms.

I also appreciate that they have security guards at the building entrance, and at the 3rd and 4th floors.

I was given a modest sized Deluxe Room with modern amenities. 

The first thing I noticed was the air conditioning unit. Hello, 25°C! I was still nursing a cold then, so the warm room temperature plus the comforter gave me a good night’s sleep.

Continue reading “Review: Gaju Suite Hotel, Kathmandu”

Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal

“Please don’t do the acrobatics.” I told my pilot, Peter.
 
“We’ll see. Maybe you’ll like it when you’re up there.” he said.
 
This was our conversation before we walked closer to the edge of the cliff where he strapped the parachute cords onto my harness.
Picture-taking while waiting for our turn
Behind the scenes of paragliding in Pokhara
 
After securing everything, he said…
 
Peter: “You only need to do one thing, okay? Don’t jump. Don’t sit. Just run, okay?”
Me: “Okay!”
Peter: “Wait for my signal. When I say run, just run straight ahead.” He repeated.
Me: “Yup!”
We waited for a while for the clouds to clear up. The next thing I know, I could hear him saying “Run! Run! Run!”, and I ran as fast as I could to the edge of the cliff, and within seconds, my feet were no longer touching the ground.
 
Shortly after takeoff
 
It was such an incredible feeling. Even though it felt like it was just me and the elements, it didn’t feel scary at all.
I looked down at the tiny houses and winding roads. The rice terraces were various patches of green. Even though the Annapurna Range was elusive, I still got unobstructed views of Sarangkot Hill and Fewa Lake.
Joining the other paragliders

From our short conversation while we were up there, I found out that Peter used to be a builder for 20 years in Wales before finally deciding to be a tandem paragliding pilot in Nepal.
 
He said just like me, he was just a ‘passenger’ before. He loved the experience so much, and decided to train to become a pilot. He’s been doing this for 9 years now. He says he loves his job so much that he doesn’t mind going to ‘work’ on Mondays. 😉 Couldn’t argue with that.


I read in some blogs that pilots look for signs if the passenger is not feeling well, and maybe based on Peter’s observations, he saw that I was having fun that’s why he tricked me and did this…

Paragliding in Pokhara

WARNING: You might want to turn down the volume because I screamed like a 5-year old girl in this video LOL

I have to admit, I’m glad he did the acrobatics because I had so much fun even though I got scared a bit. haha

Happy to have landed safely 🙂
Some tips: Wear comfortable shoes with good ankle support (for landing), and just eat a light meal hours before the flight.
For NPR10,200 (USD103), the package included transfers to and from the jump-off point, the 30-minute flight, pictures and video taken with a GoPro, and oh, we also got this ‘certificate’:

Have you tried paragliding in Pokhara?
K

Review: Hotel Tibet International, Nepal

When visiting Nepal, it’s inevitable to start off in Kathmandu, and use Thamel as the base. However, travelers looking for a better alternative and a less congested area can look for accommodations in the Boudha area such as Hotel Tibet International.

Hotel Tibet International

TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Winner 2015

Located just around 15 minutes from Tribhuvan International Airport, and a few minutes walk to Boudhanath Stupa, Hotel Tibet International is an ideal home base when in Kathmandu.

 
When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by the front desk staff. Cold towel, hot tea and Tibetan cookies were served while I was checking in. After this, they took care of my luggage, and I was ushered to my room in no time. My friend, who arrived a number of hours later, received the same treatment. 

The Front Office Manager, Santosh, was very accommodating, and assured us that he’s just a dial away should we need anything.
 
While Hotel Tibet is located along the main road, the rooms are in another building inside the compound (pictured) farther from the road so we were not bothered by the street noise.

I was really impressed with the room! There was so much space to move around, and it had all we could ever need for a relaxing stay.

The earth toned furniture, wooden floor, and Tibetan decor gave the room character and a very homey feel.

The room has a living area with flat screen TV with cable channels; dining area with coffee and tea making facility; a huge cabinet with electronic safe, robes, slippers, and enough hangers; and a spacious bathroom with bathtub, hot shower, toiletries, and even a hair dryer.
 
 
The bedroom has two single bed, just as I requested, and smells really nice and fresh. Plus, it has a view of Boudhanath Stupa. 

I also love the fact that there’s universal electrical sockets on both sides of the beds so my friend and I were able to charge our devices at the same time. Power outage is also not a problem.
 
Both the living area and the bedroom has individually controlled air conditioning units which kept us warm during the nippy night.
 
Do take note that they have a coupon system for the WiFi which means only one device can be logged in at a time. It’s not a big deal, though, as the WiFi’s pretty fast and reliable.
Stir-Fried Noodles ordered from room service
They also have a 24-hour room service, which was great. We ordered twice, and the food was delicious, prices were reasonable, and the food arrived within 15-20 minutes (which is pretty fast by Nepali standards, by the way).
 

Norbulingka Terrace

The hotel has several F&B outlets, but breakfast is served at Norbulingka Terrace.

The buffet breakfast was delightful. It offers a modest selection of South Asian, Chinese, and Western cuisines. 

photo from Hotel Tibet International

Norbulingka Terrace’s al fresco dining area with a view of Boudhanath Stupa

‘First’ breakfast plate

Other facilities include a meeting room, a carpet showroom, and spa.
 
Just going around the hotel premises, one will appreciate the attention to detail they’ve put into giving guests a feel of the Tibetan culture.
When we checked out, they helped us in getting a cab, and even negotiated the fare with the driver.

In our short stay, I couldn’t really find anything to complain about.

Hotel Tibet International is a boutique hotel with 5-star service.
~~ We were hosted by Hotel Tibet International for a night, but all opinions in this review are my own.~~
Boudhanath Road, Boudha
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 01 448 8188

Nepal for Non-Trekkers

Undoubtedly, the first thing that comes to mind when people hear ‘Nepal’ is Mt. Everest.
Sure, tourists from all over the world flock to Nepal mostly to climb the ‘roof of the world’, but did you know there’s plenty of other activities for non-trekkers?

How to go to Nepal from The Philippines

First things first. There are no direct flights from Manila.
The most economical way would be to book a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur from any of the LCCs (low-cost carrier) then book another flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu.
 
Filipinos can get up to 30-day visa on arrival, and the process is very straightforward. You just need to fill out the visa application form, attach a passport-sized photo, line up at the visa on arrival counter, pay the $25.00 fee, and that’s it!

KATHMANDU

It was almost midnight (thanks to our delayed flight) when we arrived we arrived in Kathmandu, so we didn’t get to see the city until the following day.

First order of business was to visit the 3 famous Durbar Squares (plazas) of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

Maju Deval

The driver we hired decided to drop us off at Kathmandu Durbar Square despite being instructed to bring us to Bhaktapur first.

There were pilgrims spinning prayer wheels, vendors hawking their wares, rickshaws whizzing past people, taxis that kept honking like there’s no tomorrow, and stray dogs and cows all coming in from every direction. There was so much going on, I was just overwhelmed.

For a minute, I just stood there trying to take it all in. Kathmandu’s chaos is like Manila’s, Ho Chi Minh’s, and Yangon’s combined.

I took a deep breath, and simultaneously inhaled burning incense, dust, and fumes.

Once I got past the culture shock, I was able to concentrate on admiring Kathmandu’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Kathmandu Durbar Square 

A monk stands amid a flock of pigeons in front of Jagannath Temple
Narayan Temple
The carved timber roof struts portray the incarnations of Vishnu.
Kathmandu Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR750 (USD7.50)

Sure, Kathmandu has some rundown buildings and haphazardly-built new ones, but we, as Filipinos, could learn a thing or two from them about heritage site preservation.

Patan Durbar Square

 
Krishna Mandir on the far right
photo credit: Jyse Salubre
Vishwonath Temple
Patan Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR500 (USD5)
 

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Our last stop on our first day was Bhaktapur, which is my favorite among the 3 Durbar Squares, because it’s the biggest and least chaotic. Ironically, it’s also where we met the most persistent guide. He kept on following us, offering his service even though we already turned him down a number of times.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR1500 (USD15)
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore the entire ancient city of Bhaktapur because we were pressed for time. We only had 2.5 hours, but half of it was wasted while waiting for our food.
You’ll find this is often the case when dining in Nepal, so don’t go to a restaurant starving, because believe me, you’ll be HANGRY (adj. hunger causing a negative change in emotional state). Average waiting time is 45 minutes.

L: Momo – Nepalese dumpling with chicken, vegetables, or buff (buffalo) filling; R: Chicken Biryani

 

If you’re with a big group, it might also be a good idea to split into smaller groups, and dine in separate restaurants, and/or, once you’ve placed your orders, take turns in sightseeing instead of just waiting for the food.

 Boudhanath Stupa 

Probably the closest I’ll ever get to Tibet…for now
Entrance fee: NPR250 (USD2.50)
 
Probably the most iconic among Nepal’s heritage sites is the Boudhanath Stupa. This mammoth of a stupa is the biggest in Nepal, among the largest in the world, and is the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.
Buddha’s all-seeing eyes, colorful prayer flags, pilgrims walking clockwise while spinning prayer wheels, and ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ on repeat gives Boudhanath a very spiritual and serene atmosphere.

Garden of Dreams

 
Believe or not, this beautiful neoclassical garden sits right in the middle of the city. It was the perfect respite from the chaos of Kathmandu.

Families, friends, and lovebirds enjoy some quiet time here

Entrance fee: NPR200 (USD2)

In a rather conservative country where public display of affection is taboo, I was surprised to see many couples here who were rather, uhm, affectionate. Probably not the best place to wander alone. haha It made me want to grab the next Nepali cutie that’ll pass by. LOL

One of our favorite pastimes while in Kathmandu – Nepali cutie spotting LOL
photo credit: Jyse Salubre

Spotted this adorable kid while walking around Boudhanath

Nepal’s got some of the most beautiful people I’ve seen. Their well-defined features will give ’em Brazilians a run for their money in the modeling industry here in The Philippines. :p


Thamel 

In the tourist area of Thamel where cashmere and pashmina stores are left and right, there was, surprisingly, no hard selling. Visitors are encouraged to enter shops and check the merchandise. Haggling’s pretty easy too.


POKHARA

Like most countries, Nepal’s true beauty is seen outside of the capital.
The views along the way made the drive to Pokhara bearable. The scene is actually very similar to what one would see heading north of The Philippines.

Phewa (Fewa) Lake

Phewa (Fewa) Lake.
 
Boating is a popular activity in Phewa Lake. You can just leisurely boat around, or if you’ve got more energy, you can hire a rowing boat, cross to the other side of the lake at the foot of World Peace Pagoda, and hike to the top. On a clear day, one will be rewarded with a view of the Annapurna Range.

 

Sarangkot SUNRISE

 

At a little bit past 5:00 am, there were already a number of tourist buses parked at the foot of the viewing platform.

For NPR100.00, we decided to wait for sunrise at the viewing deck – which we unfortunately had to share with a bunch of rude Mainlanders – while sipping hot tea.

We went in November, which is supposedly one the best months to go in terms of visibility, but we were sorely disappointed. We just had a glimpse of the tip of one of the mountain ranges’ peaks.

Paragliding

 
 
Tandem paragliding was definitely the highlight of this trip for me.
It was a very exhilarating experience, and not scary at all! Just listen to your pilot, run all the way to the edge of the cliff, and before you know it, your feet are no longer touching the ground.
Wear comfortable shoes with good ankle support (for landing), and just eat a light meal hours before the flight. Actually, I’m glad I did it on an empty stomach because my crazy pilot decided to do some acrobatics even when I told him not to. But I’m glad he did. haha
For NPR10,200 (USD103), the package included transfers to and from the jump-off point, the 30-minute flight, and pictures and video taken with a GoPro.

THE HIMALAYAS

Lastly, no trip to Nepal is complete without even getting a glimpse of The Himalayas.
Here’s some ways to see this magnificent mountain range:
  • Get a seat on the right side of the plane going to Kathmandu (if coming from Malaysia) and vice versa;
  • Book an overnight stay, or simply do a day trip from Kathmandu to Nagarkot;
  • Book a sunrise viewing tour in Sarangkot;
  • Trek to the World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara;
  • Book an Everest flight;
  • Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and vice versa.
We were quite unfortunate that The Himalayas seemed elusive for the duration of our trip even though we went in late November.
 

My last chance to see it was on our flight back to Kuala Lumpur, but our 3:15 PM flight got delayed by a couple of hours. When our plane finally arrived, it took a while to depart because we waited for clearance from the control tower. It was almost sunset, and I was already losing hope, but within minutes after our ascent, I was rewarded with an unobstructed view of the great mountain range!

The snowcapped peaks I only see on pictures are now before my eyes, and it left me speechless. I felt privileged to have seen it in my lifetime.

It was definitely a memorable ending to my Nepal trip. 🙂

K