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Bhutan, Nepal or both (in about 3 weeks?)

Bhutan, Nepal or both (in about 3 weeks?)

Aug 2nd, 2014, 06:36 AM
  #41  
 
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Whoops, my mistake - 2015, not 2014...plenty of time, even for the festival

I don't think you will be able to book directly. And you will have to use a local guide in Bhutan. You can contact an agent like Snow White Tours and explain your situation. This is far enough in the future that you will not be obligated for anything. You probably will not have to provide a deposit until your agent makes the airline reservations.

We did not learn the language - most in the tourist industry speak English...
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Aug 2nd, 2014, 07:29 AM
  #42  
 
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Likewise in Nepal, virtually everyone you will have contact with - even villagers - will speak at least some English.
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Aug 2nd, 2014, 08:04 AM
  #43  
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That's a relief! I will just try to learn the basic 10 sentences in each language (Good morning, good evening, please,thank you, I'm sorry I don't speak your language). If we use an tour group at all, it will be Snow White Tours (a close colleague of mine also had a very good experience with them). However, it is possible we will be able to work with a relative of the sherpa who climbed Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary (has Bhutanese wife and bhutan guide license) and we will be following this possibility first.

We are hoping not to do a group trip, though GeoExpeditions has a very appealing one in Nepal (short treks in Annapurna area, stop in Pokhara, then short trek in Khumbu Everest area, finishing with a little time in Kathmandu). I like that it has internal flights.

That said, it may be too much trekking and I REALLY want to go to Bhutan (my problem is that I really want to go everywhere What is looking appealing in Bhutan right now is the trek between Paro and Thimphu, the black crane festival, some time doing day hikes from one (nice) hotel in the Bhumthang valley, a short trek just opened in Eastern Bhutan, and of course the famous Tiger's Nest monastery.

I know, too much, but we have first drafts to work on. I'm really grateful for this forum because my lovely very present oriented Italian husband has no interest in trip planning, which for me is one of the big parts of the pleasure of travel.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 06:32 AM
  #44  
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Can anyone suggest a hotel in Bangkok less expensive than the Oriental, but nice and in that area by the river? The Shangri-La perhaps? The Marriott? Is the Oriental so special that it is worth the $$$ if you are counting them rather carefully?
Thanks. We have never been to Thailand. May stay 2 nights rather than 1 to be doubly cautious not to miss connections but have not decided.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 07:55 AM
  #45  
 
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You do not have to be part of a group to tour Bhutan. We had a private tour - just the two of us plus guide and driver.

2 nights in Bangkok is a good idea. You can certainly get a room at the Shangi-La, the Anantara Riverside (formerly the Marriott), the Royal Orchid Sheraton and maybe even the Peninsula (our favorite) for less than the Oriental. We have stayed at the Oriental but it is not worth the extra, if money is tight.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 07:57 AM
  #46  
 
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See comment above and start with asiarooms.com for prices and be sure to check with the hotels directly also, as sometimes they have specials...
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 08:25 AM
  #47  
 
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As Craig says, it isn't that you have to take group tour in Bhutan, the rule is that you must use a Bhutan travel agency and have a driver/guide with you for the whole trip.

I also would not do group trip in Nepal - absolutely no need to do so. And there was a recent post here about problems a traveler had with GeoExpeditions. I'd suggest you choose to trek in Bhutan (more unspoiled territory) and spend city time in Nepal. If you do decide to trek in Nepal, give the Everest Base camp a miss and trek in another region. The problems with the base camp and with the trails leading to it are such (trash, trash, trash) that it would not be my idea of a trek in the beautiful "wilderness." Also, Nepal has mostly been deforested.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 11:10 AM
  #48  
 
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The worst places for grime, pollution, trash, and sights that'll make your eyes sore with one thing or another, are in Kathmandu.

Spread your horizons, it's not difficult. We did it recently with a bit of research, some of it good, some of it not, and came away with a cross-section of what the place is all about.

Read the local newspapers too, 5 rupees, and contain lots of good stuff...

http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/
http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 11:49 AM
  #49  
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Thanks everyone! I will choose among suggested hotels in Bangkok when time comes to reserve.

I just reread my post, Kathie, and I misspoke. While the GeoEX itinerary and internal flights appeal to me in Nepal, traveling with a group does not. I think we will do one (or possibly two short) treks in Bhutan, try to make it to the Black Crane festival, and spend 4-5 days in one place making day hikes. Then perhaps a final 4-5 days in Kathmandu Valley (maybe staying in the sister city of Kathmandu rather than the city itself), and taking an Everest mountain hike from KTM.

We will either use the Snow White Travel agency or work through a guide a friend knows and recommends highly (related to the Sherpa who ascended Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary).

I am already getting excited, wish it were this year instead of next. But on the other hand, can use the intervening time to get in shape.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 12:10 PM
  #50  
 
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<<< But on the other hand, can use the intervening time to get in shape.>>>

It doesn't matter what your physical shape is, you need to take your time and acclimatize on the way up. Otherwise, at best, you'll be on stretcher.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 12:32 PM
  #51  
 
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As you think about Nepal, consider what is important to you on this visit. If you are trekking in Bhutan, you may be more interested in seeing the world heritage sites in Nepal. That is what I wanted to re-visit in Nepal. The three Durbar Squares: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur; the two Buddhist Stupas: Boudnath and Swayambunath; the cremation site, Pashupatinath (sometimes referred to as the Nepali Varanasi); and the oldest Hindu temple located on a ridge overlooking the valley, Changu Narayan.

Kathmandu is a big, polluted city (though the air is cleaner than it was 25 years ago!). I think it makes sense to stay somewhere that feels like a refuge. My first trip to Kathmandu, we stayed at the Yak and Yeti, which is lovely, but right in the middle of the city. Last trip we stayed at the Hyatt, which is out by Boudnath (just a short stroll away) and within walking distance of Pashupatinath. It was quiet there but close to the places I wanted to go. You can stay in either of the other two cities in the Kathmadu Valley, Patan or Bhaktapur. Consider driving times as you choose. Traffic in the valley is bad.

I don't know whether the guide you mention in Bhutan can make your arrangements there or thither he will need to ask an agency there to make your arrangements. Bhutan is very clear about their requirements for visiting, and having a local agency make arrangements is one of the requirements.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 01:41 PM
  #52  
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Thanks, Kathie. Both your questions and your suggestions are really helpful. The guide I mentioned for Bhutan is married to someone Bhutanese and has already taken my former vet and his wife on a trip to Bhutan they were very happy with. I am supposed to hear from him in September. Also that month my husband has a cardiologist appointment (emergency triple bypass last October) and we should learn if he has any altitude constraints.

I'm not sure how to articulate what is important to me in the visit. Seeing Everest is one thing--and I think we will try to do that from a plane from KTM. Another is the temples and stupas in and around Kathmandu. The last is something less tangible---some sense of the feeling of the spirit of Nepal. Our original plan was to go to only Bhutan, but two people I respect thought Bhutan lacked some of the soul that Nepal has. However, other friends have found Bhutan to be magical.

And yes, we will want a hotel which is a refuge and not right in the middle of the city. This is one of the times we would splurge. If the traffic is bad in the valley, perhaps the Hyatt in the capital would be a better choice than Patan or Bhaktapur.

We like big cities but tend to stay out of the center--in Paris, near the Luxembourg Gardens, in Venice in the Dorsoduro, in New York near Central Park in the Upper West Side.

Lancaster Lad--Thanks and we know about and will be VERY careful to acclimate for altitude as well as getting my husband cleared medically.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 03:16 PM
  #53  
 
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"The last is something less tangible---some sense of the feeling of the spirit of Nepal. Our original plan was to go to only Bhutan, but two people I respect thought Bhutan lacked some of the soul that Nepal has. However, other friends have found Bhutan to be magical. " I love what you have written, cmstraf. I have a sense of what you mean from my own travels and my reactions to my intensive research about Bhutan.

I would expect Bhutan to be magical. (Have you seen Travelers and Magicians? I recommend it!) But part of being magical is lacking the nitty-gritty. As several friends who have visited Bhutan have said, everything (religious sites, monasteries) looks new because it is. Bhutan "preserves" by rebuilding. So it has the magic, but not the feel of the old, the feel of history. There is no question that Nepal has the nitty-gritty - the dirt and the trash, yes, but the well-worn shrines and temples as well. Different people are looking for different things. For our purposes, the Hyatt was perfect. It was clean and comfortable, a quiet refuge amidst green grounds. But even at the Hyatt), you can't drink (or even brush your teeth) with the tap water. Nepal has some of the worst-quality tap water in the world.

This will be a wonderful trip, no doubt. You are doing your research and thinking about what you want to see/do/experience. Combining those two will give you the trip YOU want!
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 04:47 PM
  #54  
 
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Just to clarify on Kathie's perspective - Bhutan is magical, mostly because it is rural. I am sure if you get away from the gritty Kathmandu and the touristed Everest base camps that there are pristine places in Nepal. If you appreciate the outdoors and preserving the environment however, you will appreciate the Bhutanese and their outlook. Yes, they do rebuild, when needed (there have been fires, earthquakes and invasions) but what country doesn't rebuild their most prized assets? The Bhutanese do tend to embellish on what had been done before, but that keeps the locally trained artisans employed and quite honestly makes things more attractive rather than less...
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 05:02 PM
  #55  
 
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See also my comments above. In Bhutan, which has such a small population, many are connected to Royalty. The sister of the Snow White Tours' owner is the equivalent of a US Senator. One of my client's kids went to school with the current king of Bhutan, so it is just a different place. The Bhutanese, by the way do not get along with the Nepalese...
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 05:05 PM
  #56  
 
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Craig makes some excellent points. We are all looking for different things in our travels. This reminds me of the mixed feelings people have about the rebuilt, repainted stupas in Burma. On one hand some Buddhists believe that they earn merit by repairing the old decrepit stupas, while others love the gorgeous decay of the old stupas. One isn't right and the other wrong, they are different perspectives.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 05:35 PM
  #57  
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This may sound cautious to the point of paranoid but, after an intense episode of food poisoning in Volterra years ago, I am very cautious about tap water everywhere. When we are in Italy we drink bottled water and much of the time I brush my teeth with it. I don't think French or Italian water is "bad", but I do think it has different bacteria than my body is used to...and every travel day is precious.

I was advised by friend who travels to Nepal a LOT (40 times) for work, pleasure and spiritual renewal that festivals are the times to be most concerned about food poisoning. There are wonderful delicious things but in the hustle and bustle of festivities, it is a time when sanitary practices in preparation are not at their best.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 05:41 PM
  #58  
 
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cmstraf, I agree. I know there are those who believe that if you don't eat street food you haven't had the REAL local experience. But I'd rather be healthy and miss the street food. Sanitation is the not the forte in Nepal (or in most poor countries, for that matter).

And I drink bottled water almost everywhere - I can taste the chlorine in tap water, so prefer bottled. At home, we have water delivered in 5 gallon carboys.
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Aug 3rd, 2014, 08:47 PM
  #59  
 
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<<>>

Electricity power cuts (Load shedding) are a daily occurence, and power goes off for hours at a time, sometimes even days at a time. Here's the current schedule...

http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/in...ages&page_id=8

Load-shedding is a major factor in poor food hygiene, and sanitation generally. Places with generators to run freezers and fridges are fine, but the vast majority of places rely on inverters [or nothing at all] during load-shedding, which provide v.little power, and definitely not enough to run freezers.

Everytime you touch something with your hands make sure you use hand sanitizer. Wear a mask, many locals do, and for a good reason. If you go down with travellers tummy, then that'll slow you down for a few days at least.

Kathmandu [+ Valley] is basically a "mess". 25 years ago, Kathmandu had approximately 150,000 residents. Today the population in Kathmandu [+ Valley] has grown to close to 4 (four) million. I can't for the life of me see how the air quality is better these days than it was 25 years ago! It's awful!
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Aug 4th, 2014, 05:53 AM
  #60  
 
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LL, I'm not sure where you got your data, but the population of the Kathmandu Valley was certainly not 150,000 25 years ago. In a quick search I was unable to located the overall population numbers, but there were over a million Newari (just one of the ethnic groups) in the Kathmandu Valley In 1990. The population has grown significantly since then, but the air was terrible in the early 1990s because of the use of a mix of fuel oil and kerosene to run the tuk-tuks. Once that was outlawed, the air cleared considerably. I wouldn't call the air clean now, but it is much better than it was then.
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