Friday, October 3, 2008

Thai'd One On

Friday night. We're in Kathmandu, at Le Meridien, a Sheraton property a few km out of town. It's pretty nice, very Nepalese (by our lights), incense bruning, everybody saying "Namaste," monkeys roaming all over the grounds (guests are warned to keep windows closed), some huge and obviously ancient India Rubber trees. All set on a 500 hectare forest reserve that features two old temples and other sites; and a golf club and spa. Somwhat older, plush. With very slow internet.

Last night was at an airport hotel Vicki found on the internet--driver met us at the Bangkok airport and drove us, in a Mercedes, to the $13/night hotel. Not so plush, but safe and clean, and included return to the airport today. Bangkok traffic was near gridlock, and we were merely on the outskirts. It was warm and muggy, and last night featured heavy rain and the loudest and longest electrical storm either of us has ever experienced.

The Kat airport is a small regional sort in size, despite the 1MM population, and the customs/immigration set-up is not configured to deal with the two L-1011's that arrived this morning. We were in lines for a quite a while, got through, and then emerged into the sunshine and crowds of touts and louts. Fortunately, the hotel had a person meeting us who drove us here. The "meet and greet" function is becoming ever more important in this next stage of travel. We drove from the airport to the hotel, away from the city center, and saw some of the worst poverty we have seen. Nepal is genuinely a third-world, developing, South, however you put it. We saw rather little of this in China--nothing to compare with today--despite the fact that Mao's "iron rice bowl" of social security is no more than history.

Friday evening we ate at the buffet, in a courtyard of the hotel, with local musicians playing a very interesting kind of fusion, both instrumentally and musically, traditional instruments as well as guitar and bongos. The grilled lamb was great, as was the chicken, etc. Nice to have a bit of a change in cuisine.

Tomorrow we'll begin preparations for the trek, including a meeting with a trek organizer we have found via a Seattle school librarian. Hopefully, things will get squared away quickly and we can spend some time seeing the Kat sights. And watching the monkeys. It will be tough, however, not being plied with food and liquor on Thai Airlines. (I've never had cognac with lunch before). Mark

October 3 Kathmandu, Nepal

I can’t really believe we are here. Kathmandu sounds so exotic—a place I never expected to visit. We stayed in basically a dump last night near the Bangkok airport. But it was only $13. The choices I found were there or at the airport Novatel which was well over $180. Because our flight was delayed in Bangkok we were only there 7 hours anyway. It was clean but old. There was an incredible thunderstorm during the night that lasted for hours with the loudest lightning and thunder I’ve ever heard and massive amounts of rain. The monsoon season doesn’t end in Thailand until November.

The Kathmandu airport was a zoo, especially once we left the terminal. Our hotel was meeting us but two other fellows grabbed our bags and pretended to be with the driver and then wanted us to pay them. The hotel car was blocked in by another so our driver had a rousing battle with several men before we could leave. The hotel is amazing, quite old but beautiful, located on the edge of a large forest that the hotel owns. It was once part of the King’s reserve and the only standing forest of any size in the whole valley. The forest dates back 500 years and some of the rubber trees our over 200. Monkeys roam the grounds. We will see how well behaved they are at the outside dinner buffet. Can’t just have ramen here as there are no stores anywhere within walking distance. We have to hire the hotel car—but it is only $20 to town and they will wait for you for 2 hours and then bring you back included. Tomorrow night—ramen. The hotel itself is free with our credit card points. They have saved us a ton of money, which is good since India is going to cost 3 times what we budgeted.

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