We took advantage of the laid back sleepy lake side town of Pokhara by finally slowing down and relaxing. Along with renting a motorbike and going to different viewpoints of the Himalayas, we also rented a boat to row around Phewa Lake. For a cheap 370 Nepalese Rupees or about $3.70 USD you can rent a boat for an hour and enjoy the views around Pokhara and Phewa Lake. What started as a relaxing getaway quickly turned into one of our favorite past times; a photo shoot, taking advantage of the glass like water and surrounding mountains. It was a nice break from the rushing around we had been doing and what was inevitably waiting for us in India.
Archives for February 2014
At first glance, the streets of Kathmandu, the capitol city of Nepal, does not strike anything close to the stereotypical form of ‘beautiful’. With trash piles lining the streets, dogs sleeping on every available corner; too hungry to move, half dressed children wandering the streets putting their hand in their mouth to signal for food and small fires burning on the streets and sidewalks in the middle of a small group of people just trying to stay warm in the bitter January mornings. No…no one would take a first glance and call this city anything close to resembling beauty. But that does not mean there is no beauty to be found here.
As strange as it may sound, Kathmandu was one of those cities that for no justifiable reason, I wanted to move to. It has one of those indescribable vibes that’s absolutely contagious. One of my favorite parts about staying there was merely taking walks through the eternally busy streets of Kathmandu. Doging cars, motorbikes, brightly painted tuk tuks and aggressive salespeople and wandering through the endless mazes of narrow streets and even more narrow alleyways. You can easily get swept up in the sites and smells of the city. Clusters of women in brightly colored sari’s always got me to do a double take. I’ve never seen so many beautiful fabrics before and I was constantly peaking into fabric shops with bolts of it reaching the ceiling. Walking through the streets you can see the brightly colored buildings that look like the inside of a Crayola crayon box, smell the incense coming from every shop, see women buying fresh vegetables on the side of the street, people giving hair cuts at the base of a stupa, children running and laughing through the streets, and the colorful prayer flags hung from every where, fighting to be the tallest around.
Walking though the streets of Kathmandu sends your senses into overdrive as they try to remember every detail; attempting to make mental notes of everything. When we first arrived, I couldn’t get over how loud it was, the air filled to the brim with bicycle bells, car horns and people haggling over the last 50 cents for a souvenir. But it’s funny what you can grow accustomed to and start to overlook in a short amount of time. Beyond the pollution, both noise and air, there are layers of beauty just waiting to be discovered.
You simply can’t even think about visiting Beijing without making the trek out to the Great Wall. Now, there’s several different areas of the Great Wall that you can visit from Beijing. The most well known spots are Badaling (most well known and most grand; also the most busy), Huanghuacheng (on the water), Mutianyu (mountain scenery, less crowded), Jiankou (known for dangerousness and steepness), Gubeikou (most places are deserted and unrestored), Jinshanling (very primitive and majestic; only recommended to experienced hikers), and Simatai (very well intact but very difficult hike; known for Wanjing Tower and Stairway to Heaven). If you are planning on going, I would look at each, check the distance from Beijing and choose accordingly since each area offers something uniquely different from the next. The first, Badaling, is by far the most popular, the most grand and therefore the most crowded. The next choice on our list was the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall which was highly recommended by both guides and friends who had been there previously. It’s not as large but the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall is the less crowded and slightly more destitute area of the wall we were looking for.
I’m not sure if it was the time of year, the early 5am wake up call (which put us out the door by 6 and at the wall at 8:30 am; a two hour trip by bus, subway and taxi) or the Mutianyu area that we picked but we could only see about a dozen people on the entire wall when we arrived. By the time we left however, around 10:30, the wall was a bit more busy with maybe 100 people or so. Regardless, we felt as if we had the entire wall to ourselves, not ever having to push through crowds, wait in line or worry about swarms of people in our photos. We were able to take our time, strolling along large portions of the wall, mesmerized by the vast size of it, sprawling as far as the eye could see. I’ll be honest though. While it was an amazing site, it was one of those that you show up and think ‘yup, it’s exactly how I thought it would be’. That doesn’t mean it was any less fantastic, just one of those sites that is more or less how you pictured it to be. Regardless, there are certain things that you just simply can’t go your lifetime without seeing and the Great Wall is one of them.
One thing you can’t overlook on your trip to Beijing are the Beijing hutongs or small alleyways that are formed by lines of old traditional courtyard residences called siheyuan and are scattered all over the city. Sadly, many of these hutong areas are being torn down for development but thankfully there are still a few left. We headed for the Bell Tower area of hutongs and weren’t disappointed. Once you break away from the crowds and enter into these old neighborhoods, it’s easy to get swept up in the sites and smells of the past. Pack your walking shoes because you’re going to want to spend hours weaving through all the Beijing hutongs.
The day had come. We were heading to the airport to start our three week vacation and leaving Korea for good. I was almost giddy with excitement and nerves by the time we reached the airport. We had arrived hours before our flight partially due to excitement and partially due to the fact that we simply had nothing left to do in Seoul. We had finished our to do lists of accounts to close, bucket items to cross off and favorite foods to have one last time. We were ready to go. That is until we got to the ticket desk and were told that they could not let us board our flight because we would be violating the 72 hour China visa regulations.
Those who know me know that I do not handle last minute drastic changes very well to say the least (does anyone out there?) We were planning on taking advantage of the 72 hour layover visa option available like we had during our visit to Shanghai. If you have a flight leaving China within 72 hours of arrival and continues into a third country (aka not the one you just came from) immigration will let you into the country for no more than 72 hours without a visa (which costs a whopping $200 per person for Americans). Well we had a flight from Seoul to Beijing. Then another one two days later from Beijing to Kathmandu, Nepal. No problem, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. Here’s where it got sticky. The flight from Beijing to Kathmandu had a layover in another Chinese city. According to our airline, this voided the opportunity for the 72 hour layover since we touched down in China again, even though we were not going to leave the airport for the two hour layover. We would have to change our flight so it directly left China.
This was a huge upsets that was only magnified by the fact that we had only 40 minutes before our flight was boarding and most of the ticketing counters were closed seeing as how it was already past ten o’clock at night. You could see the sympathy in the ticketing agents eyes as we went to the only open ticketing counter and looked at their flights which only offered flights with layovers back in Seoul, also not allowed for us. Thank goodness for airport wifi because with only ten minutes to spare, we booked new flights on Kayak.com and were able to sprint (literally, unabashedly, flailing of the limbs type of sprint that is only seen in airport terminals) to our gate which would take us to Beijing. Moral of the story is to check, double check, even triple check visa regulations before booking that flight.
But alls well that ends well. And we booked new tickets that took us from Beijing to Hong Kong instead and were able to see one of the most infamous skylines in the world as our consolation prize for hours (ok, it was about an hour, but the longest hour of my life) of stress and struggle with the airline companies. Since our layover in Hong Kong was short, but thankfully we didn’t need a visa, we decided to head straight for the Star Ferry and across the harbor in order to see the skyline.