Category Archives: Asia

Going to Kathmandu? Here is Some Practical Advice

There are a lot of guides which will tell you what to see in Kathmandu and Nepal. This is not one of them. Go see what you want to see.

This is a bunch of practical advice – for backpackers from backpackers. Most tourist guides do not talk about these things.

tuctuc

Get on a tuc-tuc if you feel adventoirous

On Arrival in Kathmandu

99% of more of the foreign visitors in Nepal arrive at Kathmandu airport. Most probably you’ll be one of them too. So let’s see what to do there:

Have a pen. You have to fill an immigration card. You’ll need to find a place where to do it – maybe propped on the wall or you may find place on some of the tables. Don’t overthink the immigration card, they won’t read it anyway.  Fill your data and go ahead on the queue.

Have money for the visa. Visas for Western travellers start at $30 depending on the length of the stay.  Give it to the guy on the first queue along with your passport. He does not need any other papers, they are for the next desk.

Have a picture. It’s best to have a passport-sized photo of yourself on arrival. It is required unless you have submitted the online visa application. I recommend you to use the online version, it will save you time at the airport.

Once finished with the formalities, proceed to take your luggage.

Exchange some money. Many sites online will tell you the rate is bad. I didn’t notice. It’s worth it to exchange a couple of dollars so you are not bound to going to specific place i Thamel with the taxi driver. There is one exchange desk at the arrival hall on the airport and another one on the exit.

Going to the city. The prepaid taxi drivers will meet you at the exit. They currently ask for 750 rupees which is a bit steep. If you want to save some go outside and negotiate with the drivers. You should be able to go to 500 – 600 ruppes to Thamel. Maybe even 400 if you are good in bargaining.

There is also a bus. If you are not in a hurry and don’t have too much luggage, go outside of the airport area and you’ll find the bus stop (I think you have to go left). Buses are very cheap (paid inside, on going out) – something like 20 rupees per person. They are usually crowded so don’t use a bus if you have too much baggage.

Ho(s)tel. Choose and book in advance. There are many hostels in Kathmandu and many of them have websites and list on Hostelworld etc. Why rely on a random driver choose your hostel? Makes no sense – it’s better to choose yourself based on price, pictures, reviews. Insist that the driver brings you to your hostel and not another one. Don’t listen to shit like “this area is dangerous” and so on. They tell you this to take you to a hostel where they take commission.

We slept in Elbrus hostel just at the edge of Thamel. It’s a great place to stay with excellent breakfast and staff. If you have more than 1-2 days in Kathmandu I recommend you staying in a hotel in Boudhanath. It’s the Tibetan neighbourhood and is less crowded than Thamel.

Being There

Go outside of Thamel. Huge number of visitors go only to the tourist area of Thamel  and then leave Kathmandu. This is not the real city. The real city is outside of Thamel. Go outside of Thamel and you’ll see areas that are less crowded, and people that don’t look at you as a source of easy money.

Eat and drink in the city. It’s cheaper and not worse than the tourist places. Of course don’t go in the dirtiest restaurants. There are good places in the malls. See where the young people collect, these are usually the good places to have momos or other dishes.

Veg momos

Veg momos

There is one restaurant in Thamel  that is definitely good for visiting. It offers Tibetan kitchen and hot Tibetan beer. Try it, it’s really interesting and hard to find elsewhere.

The hot Tibetan beer

The hot Tibetan beer

How to use the buses and how to go in the city and nearby places? Buses in Kathmandu are often crowded but are very cheap and offer a good way to meet locals really close. When a bus comes to the bus stop one person usually hangs on the door and shouts the names of the destinations it’s going to. If you hear your destination, jump in. If you don’t hear, feel free to ask the person  while the bus is on the stop. The cost is paid when you are going out of the bus.

I recommend using local buses to go the nearby places like Bhaktapur for example. It’s a nice experience and will cost you about 50 rupees or less. (Somehow it was 25 rupees for us when we went Kathmandu – Bhaktapur, and 45 rupees on our way back.

The toilets.  Most toilets in Kathmandu are horrible. Only some of the restaurants in Thamel have decent toilets. The tourist guides online say that the toilet at the airport is unusable, but it is actually not that bad. Especially if you compare it to the rest of the city. So be prepared and bring disposable wipes with you as you may need them.

Scrooge Backpacker’s Guide To Visiting Georgia

OK, I admin I used “scrooge” in title to catch attention 🙂 The guide doesn’t assume you are one although I’ll share pretty budget tips along the way. Also, let’s get the other thing clear – we are talking about Republic of Georgia and not the US state called Georgia. Oh well, just see it on the map here. This is in Caucasus just next to Turkey and Iran. Confusion cleared, let’s see how could you go there and what you can do on budget. I’ll talk mostly about Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) and Batumi – the capital of autonomous republic Adjaria inside Georgia.

Getting To Georgia On The Cheap

Although Tbilisi isn’t a popular airport there are a couple of cheap options to get there. The best one is through Istanbul in Turkey, which itself is reachable through the whole world. Of course going through Istanbul doesn’t make sense if you are living in Russia or Armenia for example. But for the rest of us flying from Istanbul is good and affordable. Return trip Istanbul – Tbilis with Fly Pegasus costs about €200 and if you’d rather fly to Batumi the cost is about €150.

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You can also reach Georgia overland. Trains between Georgia and Armenia or Georgia and Azerbaijan are very popular although not very useful of you are not already in one of these countries. However you can get a bus or train from Istanbul all the way to Erzurum and then continue to Hopa which is very close to Batumi. Minibuses connect both cities every day.

Food shop in Georgia

Food!

Staying in Tbilisi – a Bunch of Good options

We have been in Georgia two times and both times we stayed in Tbilisi for a couple of days. The most affordable option are hostels or bed and breakfast houses. My advice is to book in advance so you can reserve a good place. I use HostelWorld every time we set for a trip. The best hostel in Tbilisi is called SkadaVeli – they have a huge double bed private room for just €20 per person or you can choose to stay in dorm rooms for less than half of this price. I can recommend also Andrew’s Rooms but it was not available this year so I am not sure if they still operate.

Feel free also to check the properties at AirBNB especially if you prefer to stay in someone’s house.

Most hostels in Georgia offer breakfast included in the price. And that’s not just the typical continental breakfast – instead you are most likely to receive cool Georgian bread with something homemade. Better don’t miss it!

City Transportation

Both Tbilisi and Batumi (and I guess most Georgian towns) have public transportation which is rather cheap – between 40 and 50 tetri which makes something like €0.20 – €0.25. In Tbilisi your best option is to use the metro – just 50 tetri, very fast, and lets you cool a bit from the always hot weather (except in winter of course). Tbilisi metro is also quite a memorability itself: it’s deep and steep and riding the escalator takes about 90 seconds in most stations. The first experience is a bit scary.

If you are flying beware of taxi drivers at the airport. There is bus albeit it’s not easy to find the bus-stop. There is also a train connecting the airport with the central railway station but it’s not on frequent schedule. One was at 4 AM and the next was in 9:30 AM. The bus start going at 6:30 AM.

So if you arrive in the night you may have to get the taxi anyway. Be sure to bargain – the price can start at 40 lari ($25) to the city center  and go down to 20 lari very easy. If you speak Russian they’ll start with lower price rather than if you speak English.

Try The Trains!

Speaking about trains, you should try them to travel inside Georgia. The train to Batumi doesn’t cost much – between 20 and 50 lari depending on the class and it’s probably the cheapest option for this route (not sure about minibuses). Trains are very nice, especially the sleepers. Russian style cabins, not always in perfect condition but very comfortable anyway.

Feel free to take shorter distance train if you wish. But if you have some spare cash it’s a great idea to take the train to Yerevan in Armenia which will cost you between 30 lari (3rd class) and 70 lari (1st class sleeper).  More detailed info on these trains is available on this page.

What About Food?

Food will be your last worry in Georgia. Even eating at a restaurant is not going to break your budget. Of course, if you want to keep costs lower you can eat from the many “fast khachapuri chains” (I just invented the name).  One khachapuri will fill your stomach for several hours and the cost is just between 4 and 8 lari. Adjarian khachapuri is especially good – no surprise they eat it in the entire country, not just in Adjaria.

But what if your budget is really really tight? Buy a Georgian bread for 70 – 80 tetri, a piece of cheese for 1 – 2 lari and enjoy! It’s sometimes even better than eating outside. Georgian fruits and vegetables are very real too.

And What To See?

View from Tbilisi lift

View from the city lift

I’ll leave this to you. If you want to check a small attraction on really low budget, get the city lift that will take you to the Mother Georgia statue. The cost is just 1 lari each direction, and you can descent using the stairs if you don’t want to spend more cash.

Don’t miss to visit Georgia if you have the chance. It’s a mix of Europe and Asia and is hard to compare to any other place we’ve been to.