Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our Daily Expenses....

Phuket, Thailand.  I'm sure some of you have been wondering how affordable a trip like this really is. That would be a question on my mind if I was following this blog instead of writing it. I decided it might be a good time to itemize some of the expenses of this trip. We have now been to a whole host of different locations. We have almost been to Everest Base camp, to Delhi and Goa in India, been to big cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Singapore and spent our fair share of days on the islands of Thailand. We are enjoying a relatively high standard of living. We've had no experiences with bed bugs and mostly stayed in places with clean, attached bathrooms. These are luxuries that most low budget bag packers can't always afford. I think we fit into the category somewhere between bag packers and "flashpackers," where we have a little bit of extra savings that allow us a decently clean room every night.

ACCOMMODATIONS.  Big Cities (Delhi, Bangkok, Kuala Lampur (KL) and Singapore) - a mix of hostels and low budget hotels.  Expect to pay about $30 - $35 USD per night for a basic but clean room and attached bathroom including shower with A/C. You may find yourself in not so desirable (or desirable) neighborhoods like a hotel in Singapore in the red light district.  ABOVE. Photo of our comfortable room at Thaltara B&B, Jaipur, India

Some more photos of places we stayed at can be found below:

Ajanta Hotel, New Delhi
HI Sukhumvit, Bangkok
D'Oriental Inn, Chinatown, Kuala, Lumpur
Fragrance Hotel Sapphire, Red Light District, Singapore

During our Nepal trek, standard accommodations were anywhere from $1 - $9 USD. These are very basic digs with no attached bathrooms and sometimes no running water, electricity or heat. Showers cost an extra $1 to $4 depending on the altitude. The higher up you go the higher the cost is for accommodation as well as for showers and meals.

In Goa, India we had beautiful but basic huts with a ceiling fan ranging in price from $10 in Vagator to $7 a night on Agonda Beach.

In Thailand, typical island accommodations for a basic beach-front bungalow with a fan runs about ~$20 a night. Still an awesome value for beach front and seaviews.

FOOD.  Our food costs vary considerably. Some of the best food we have sampled has been from food carts on the streets of Bangkok for under $3 a plate of mind bending Pad Thai. But we don't always eat from street vendors. In India, the hygiene level is too iffy to eat street grub, but Thailand is a different story. Our costliest 4 star meal was an opulent evening at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi for about $85 for the two.  (Umm, try to swing that in NYC!).  Most days we have breakfast and lunch for under $10 each meal for two -- this includes eggs, toast and usually a fresh fruit salad plus coffee. Dinner might be anywhere between $10 and $20 if you add fresh seafood.  Most days we have a good breafast and a late lunch/ early dinner. So living under $40 - $50 a day is not too hard at all.  In fact, we feel like we spend too much.  ABOVE. Photo of fresh coconut and rambutan fruit for breakfast in Thailand.

TRANSPORTATION.  Our next biggest cost is transportation. Flights from NYC to New Delhi cost ~$875 R/T per person including taxes, add another $250 R/T per person flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi. A train ride to Jaipur from Delhi cost about $12 per person, one-way and flight from Udaipur back to New Delhi was just under $75 per person, one-way. Flight from Delhi to Goa was about $90 per person, one-way. The onward flight from Goa to Bangalore was about $60 per person, one-way and another $185 per person, one-way to fly to Bangkok. From Bangkok, we took a train to Chumphon on the way to the Thai islands which cost about $30 a person, one-way. Our flight from Krabi, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was about $50 per person, one-way. The next flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore which cost only about $20 per person, one-way.  Lastly, we flew from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand for about $50 per person, one-way. The local flights within Southeast Asia have all been one way seats and are usually cheaper than taking the train or bus and save a lot of time of hard traveling. Thanks to the discount airline: Air Asia.  ABOVE. Photo of Nepal's Agni Air from Lukla.

-nadia (edited by vadim :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

All that fun in Bangkok

Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaFinally, after all these weeks spent on small Thai Islands, I have the time and access to an internet cafe to upload this video clip that I have been dying to share. After a macho session of Muay Thai boxing, this is just great material. I couldn't resist.

It all began one afternoon when we took the lazy way out and signed us up for the very touristy Wanfah Dinner Cruise in Bangkok that shows beautiful lit up temples and palaces along the Chao Phraya River while serving up a traditional Thai meal, music and dancing on an old fashioned rice boat. The end of the dance presentation invites guests to join in for a quick lesson in Thai dancing.

Should I call this a Kodak moment or does it suffice to say, "For everything else, there is MasterCard?" Enjoy...

-nadia

video

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Amazing Muay Thai... in Bangkok


Bangkok, Thailand.  I've always been a boxing fan, so when a chance came up to score ringside seats for Thai kickboxing (Muay Thai) at Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Bangkok, I jumped at the opportunity. We did one better by taking a training class at Sor.Vorapin Muay Thai Gym, one of several schools around the city to get us in the mood and pumped up for the match.

The art of Muay Thai fighting is as old the country itself and is deeply ingrained in the history of Thailand. "What sets Muay Thai apart from other martial arts lies in its profound connection with spirituality and reverence, which are expressed through ritual ceremonies before and after each fight... each boxer wears 'Mong Kon' (a sacred headband) and 'Pra Jiad' (sacred armband). The headband is believed to bestow luck to the wearer since it has been blessed by a monk or the boxer's teacher."

The matches were exciting to watch. Each match goes 5 rounds. There was a surprise knockout in the first bout. Live sport betting, like on a commodities exchange; including hand signaling, creates an absolute frenzy among the spectators and fans in the arena. A truly unique experience for a glimpse into Thai culture and tradition.

-Vadim



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Darjeeling Limited... now I get it.


New Delhi, India. When I first watched the film The Royal Tenenbaums, I thought director Wes Anderson (and co-screenplay writer Owen Wilson) did a brilliant job of capturing the quirky and bizarre characters that really do inhabit New York City. This time Anderson went even further, by taking those similarly strange characters and sending them on a spiritual journey to India in the Darjeeling Limited. I always enjoyed this off-beat comedy, but when I watched it again, crashed out in our hotel room in New Delhi (in between bathroom runs), I gained new appreciation for the writers and picked up on many little nuances I would have otherwise missed, like: sweet lime, Jack running barefoot to catch the train, the funky auto rickshaws, 3-persons crammed on a 150cc Honda motorbike, savory snacks, and not to mention the vast array of pharmaceuticals that are readily available without a prescription (which I myself have been been procuring from the local chemist). The charm is in the details, when you're like: "oh yeah, now I understand what that was all about." It reaffirmed everything that I enjoy about traveling.

Even so, the movie missed a few things that I got to experience first hand. When we went out to Hotel Imperial the other night; arguably the swankiest hotel in Delhi-- all I had to wear was grungy backpacker apparel (hardly the attire required for an evening at the Imperial's exclusive Spice Route Restaurant). To remedy the situation, I put together an outfit in record time. I purchased a crisp, blue linen shirt for 300 INR ($6.30 USD) in Main Bazaar, and had a pair of white linen pants tailor-made for me in Paharganj (down the road from our hotel) in about 4 hours for 850 INR ($17.85 USD). For less than $25... you can't get that kind of service in North America.

It's our 4th week in India and Delhi has become our transient home. Locals know us by now as we walk down familiar streets and flag down rickshaw wallahs-- the most efficient form of urban transport in the city. Delhi has some very tasty food, but my stomach is having a hard time adjusting. There's lots of interesting shops to keep us busy though. We've spent some down time doing our fair share of browsing for regional hand-made crafts, paintings by local artists and even picked up a Kashmiri carpet which looks like it sells for at least twice as much in NYC. The other day we went to a local movie theater and watched the new, smash-hit Bollywood crime-comedy called '99'- in Hindi. It's like a Guy Ritchie flick, but filmed mostly in New Delhi. Seeing all the places we've been to in the movie was kind of neat and made us feel like Delhi was our current home.

-Vadim

Monday, May 25, 2009

Food in New Delhi

New Delhi, India. We have been enjoying some really yummy food on this trip. As it turns out, our hotel puts out some really nice North Indian food and we are addicted to their garlic naans. Only the Tandoor (clay oven) doesn't start working until 7 pm. So we have to wait a little longer before ordering.

Some of the food high/low lights include:

The Spice Route, Central Delhi - South India and Thai Fusion - located @ the Imperial Hotel, which is one of the more expensive old school hotels in Delhi. People like Jinnah have stayed here. Supposedly this is where he came up with the idea of creating Pakistan. What an auspicious day that must have been. Anyways, going back to the food - the service was immaculate but that was just glossing over the mediocrity of the food. We had specifically asked for mild seasoning and that is not what we got. The food was good and edible but definitely not worth the price tag which was came out to a whopping $40 a person. In a city where you can get a delicious meal for 40 INR, or $.50 cents, that's a lot of money.  But you get to dress up and play ritzy for a night.

Parikrama - the Rotating Restaurant in New Delhi - Food was excellent. Prices were good and the views just lovely. We really enjoyed good Tandoori food here. Dessert wasn't so great. I recommend it for their Indian food because their Chinese food tasted great but it was definietly made by someone who has never had Chinese food. We ordered Tempura, which I thought was Japanese but was found on their Chinese menu and tasted like a Pakora.

Sagar Ratna - South Indian Restaurant - Probably one of our favorite restaurants in New Delhi. It is always filled with locals which is a good sign. The prices are totally affordabel and we tried Dosas, Vadas and other South Indian food that even I have never had before. It was yummy and we have been back once so far.

Cafe Coffee Day - Local answer to Starbucks - Great iced coffees and regular coffees, espressos and cappuccinos. They also have good sandwiches and lots of locations all over. So this works out as a great option when you don't want to think too much about how clean the place is etc before ordering.

And yes, I admit, we have been to KFC once. It tastes okay. Definitely not as great as I remember it tasting when I was little and my parents would drive us hours to go eat at a KFC in Saudi Arab. It is spicy so they definitely add some pepper to the batter and the best part is that the chicken is skinless so has way lesser calories and fat. Loved their 25 INR Choc Amore which is a yummy browny with a liquid middle.

While I am on confessions, we have also been to McDonalds more than once. The first time we had to try the Indian Burger which is a vegetable patty and tastes Indian so they add a few spices. The next time we had a McChicken and the Chicken Maharaja Mac. McChicken tasted the same but ofcourse there can only be one Chicken Maharaja Mac that they sell only in India :)

Speaking of all this food, I think we better head back to our hotel before the restaurant closes and all the garlic naans are gone.
-nk

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New link to our FindMeSpot Adventure Map

Contemplating a Journey Around the World

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging
New Delhi, India
I picked up a new Vodafone SIM card in India. I purchased it in Delhi at a local mobile phone shop. It costs 300 INR (or $6USD) and then you buy recharge cards in denominations like 10 to 100 INR. Like Kathmandu, it's also cheap and convenient in India. International incoming calls are free for us (I think). We can also send/receive SMS text messages. Give us a ring if you have some time, we'd love to hear from friends and family.

(dial from U.S.): 011-91-965-424-6732

-Vadim

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In and around Jaipur

On our first evening in Jaipur, we were taken out to the Amber Fort for a beautiful sound and light presentation of the history of this very old fort. The very next morning (May 3rd) we returned early to go see the fort from the inside. We also visited the Jai Garh Fort later in the morning which is home of the largest cannon in the world. This followed a visit to the City Palace Museum, that houses some of the furnishings and clothing of the rulers of the Amber fort. We were treated by a lovely traditional Rajasthani Thali lunch.

The next morning, we had planned to go to Agra in a taxi that was arranged for us by our hosts. However, the heat from the day before made us take a rest day instead and push our Agra trip to the next day. I used this opportunity to spend the day shopping instead. We went to lovely shop called Rana Saris in Jaipur and I spent lots of time and money buying some beautiful Rajasthani Saris. Good thing they had a sale going on and I went with a cousin of Meera's who is a frequent shopper at this shop. I felt like I was treated like royalty as the shop keeper pulled out one sari after another for me to inspect and pick out.

On May 5th, we took the 4.5 hour drive to Agra and went to go see the Taj Mahal. First we had lunch at a restaurant called Zorba the Buddha and then we headed to Taj Mahal around 1.30 pm which is the hottest part of the day. The entrance to the Taj was about 750 INR (12 USD) for foreigners and only 20 INR for Indians. So I asked for two tickets for the tourists (Vadim and Lily) and one Indian one. We saved 730 INR and my visit to the Taj was so much more pleasant for it :)

For the most part, people think that I am the tour guide for the foreigners that I am travelling with. I was even offered a 20% commission to bring them into the gift shop at the Taj Mahal.

The drive back from Agra to Jaipur took almost 5.5 hours because of traffic. But thankfully it started to rain on the way back and the weather was much more pleasant. This was our last evening in Jaipur

On an entirely different note, if anyone is ever headed to Jaipur, we would highly recommend the guest house we stayed at:

www.thaltara.com

-nadia

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Train Ride to Jaipur....

On our Way to Jaipur, Rajasthan...
We arrived in New Delhi without a hitch after having to pay 1140 INR for extra baggage and another 48 USD each to extend our Nepali visa by six days. We had to pay a 30 USD extension fee and then 3 USD a day per person to extend it for six more days. So far, we ended up paying 78 USD each for our 36 day visa to Nepal. Which is really quite expensive considering a 6 month multi entery visa to India is only 40USD.

Our train ride to Jaipur was a breeze once we got on the train. A couple of guys at the train station tried to scam us into giving them money for tickets that were prepaid with assigned seat numbers. The scam goes as follows:

A very friendly guy at the train station tells you the way to your track. Then he tells you that you have to have your tickets stamped by the tourist office upstairs before you board the train. At 5.30 am, the Tourist office is closed but his two friends are standing by without ID or uniform to tell you that the acronym 'WS' means that you have two reserved seats and one "waiting seat" and that they would be happy to help you sort it out once you pay them 20 USD a piece for Governement tax and give them your passport numbers. Turns out that the first class tickets only cost about 15 USD a piece so it seemed ridiculous that the goverment forgot to charge this 20 USD tax at the time of the sale. We got our tickets back from them and headed to the train and found our names as confirmed passengers on the list posted on the first class rail car. The train ride was great otherwise. We were served snacks and tea every half hour to 40 minutes. The scenery was very enjoyable as the terrain starts to become more like a desert the closer we got to Rajasthan. Unfortunately, this also included a glimpse into the daiy life of the shanty town dwellers along the train tracks.

At the trains station in Jaipur we were greeted by our host for the week, Meera Ranawat. Meera is the mother of Vadim's good friend Navdeep Ranawat (Andy), who lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2000. Meera was kind enough to take us to her home and have us stay at her cousin's guesthouse which is part of their residence for the next 4 nights. Here we were treated like royalty with every need of ours being met without having to ask. I felt so very spoiled.

-nadia

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Failed Expedition... stopped by AMS

"I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung, floating over the mists and summits."

Reinhold Messner, 1978
First to solo Everest and summit without bottled oxygen

We returned to Kathmandu on May 26th without reaching Advanced Everest Base Camp. We were stopped by Acute Mountain Sickness and cold at Lobuche.

Some people are genetically predisposed to breathing problems up high. Altitude physiologists remain baffledd why some adjust easily and other not at all.

As it goes, most expeditions set up a simple, yet loafty goal; usually to summit some interesting peak and then plod off to see if they can get there. Most end in failure. So it wasn't suprising that like so many mountaineers before us, we also followed in the great tradition of failure in the big hills. In some ways, it was the perfect ending, because an adventure without calamity and set backs doesn't hold the same dramatic narrative. A failed attempt in the mountains usually prompts an exhausting account of what went wrong. In the work place, we used to call it a "post mortem".

So what did go wrong? Lots. But what went right was also an important lesson in humility. One that I picked up earlier in my climbing career, when I paid my dues on the cliffs. In the end, everyone is safe, uninjured and happy with their effort. Good judgement prevailed-- which is most important when you're toiling around on the rooftop of the world in the most formidable mountain range.

Details to be continued...

-Vadim

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Namche Bazaar

We are now in Namche Bazaar. We arrived today and plan to head to Dobuche tomorrow morning. Those of you who have read any books about the Himalayas would have definitely heard of Namche Bazaar. It seems like we are two days behind Rahila and plan to pick up the pace a bit tomorrow if we don't wake up with any altitude issues to try and catch up with her. We are at 3840 m here and have already previously crossed a 3850 m pass. Tomorrow we spend the night at 3710 m and have the option of going down to 3340 m in a couple of hours if there are any altitude symptoms at all.

We are holding up well. I feel muscle fatigue today after so many days of constant trekking on paths that are not so maintained. Vadim is going strong and makes it hard for me to keep up. We are very careful with sunscreen and wear hats during the day. Still my forearms and the back of my neck are very dark from being in the sun everyday.

We are able to find filtered water along the way or very expensive bottled water or ask the tea house to boil some for us.

Let see if we ever catch up with Rahila's Exodus group or if they remain as elusive as the Himalayan Yeti.

nadia & vadim

Junbesi...

A very quick note to let you guys know that we survived the 7 hour bus
ride to Jiri. So far we have trekked from:

Jiri to Shivalaya - Day 1
Shivalaya to Bhondara - Day 2
Bhondara to Kenja - Day 3
Kenja to Junbesi - Day 4
Today in Junbesi - Rest Day

It seems that we are at least a day or two behind our planned meeting time with Rahila in Lukla. The trek is very long every day and tiring especially for Lily so we are trying to take it slower. We went up 2000m in elevation and another 700m down. It was a 11 hour trek and we arrived wet at 9 pm after it started
raining at 3.30. We passed out and had no choice but to rest all day.
Tomorrow we head to Thakshindu or if we are up for it, all the way to
Nunthala.

Hope all is well for everyone. We are doing great and being very
careful. No issues with altitude sickness so far except for one slight
headache that Vadim experienced when we are at Lam Jora Pass at 3530 m
but it went away when we descended to 2705 m.

More to come when we have internet again! We still hope to meet up
with Rahila somewhere along the trek.

nadia & vadim

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Off to Jiri....

We wanted to send out a quick note to let everyone know that we are off to Jiri by bus tomorrow morning (April 2nd). We have booked a 6 am bus in hopes of beating any traffic out of Kathmandu. The 188 Km trip is supposed to take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours on a narrow, windy and hilly road. Hope all goes well. Vadim has a local SIM card on his phone and incoming calls are supposed to be free. The number is: 011-977-1-980-808-2688. I am not sure how far there will be a signal into the mountains but since I was unable to make a Skype call today before the load shedding, I am sending the number.

We have done all our due diligence to be safe for this trek. We are starting 8 days earlier than Rahila Baji to get better acclimatized. We have hired a guide who has been to Base Camp many times. We will also have two porters helping us carry our bags. We have registered with Himalayan Rescue Association and they have in turn sent out our registration forms to both the Canadian and US Consulates here in Kathmandu. We have evacuation coverage as well as travel medical insurance, plus altitude sickness medication, all of which we hope to not ever have to rely on.

It is getting very late and we should head to bed. We spent the last four hours packing in candlelight and then just as we finished, the light came back on :) And I want to post this before the light goes out again. We hope to send updates along our trek if and when we find an internet cafe.

Thanks,
nadia

Checking in from Kathmandu

This is our first check in on the trip. We arrived safely in Kathmandu as scheduled. It has been hard to send a note earlier because there is heavy load shedding here so the light is actually only on for 4-8 hours of the day and we were very tired yesterday and missed the oppertunity to send a note. So far, we are holding up well. Kathmandu is very dusty with hardly a single paved road and lots of pollution from traffic.
Our hotel is clean but very basic and the phone doesn't always work so calling is going to be hard. We will try to turn on our tracking device but I am not sure if it will update our location here.
Our overnight stay in New Delhi was way better than we could have anticipated. The KLM land crew got our passport numbers and luggage tags and passed it to the Jet Airways crew. The three of us walked into a lounge and stayed the whole night there although we were told we could only be there for three hours. Two ours before our flight, a Jet Airways representative brought us our boarding passes and new luggage tags. We had checked in 5 bags and total weight was definitely more than 20 kg but they didn't ask us anything at all. We picked up our bags in Kathmandu and there were no issues at all. So we didn't have to go through customs or immigration in India and didn't have to have my visa stamped. The airlines went our of their way to be accomodating and it was much nicer service than we get during most visits to JFK. Although, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the JFK staff was to us as well.
Will send a longer note later when we have some time. The load shedding is supposed to start any minute now.

nadia

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recovering Islam's undervalued Intellectual Tradition

Some mythical part of the whole travel experience involves absorbing the wisdom of enduring cultures. In this regard, I found the following passage in a blog that speaks to these aspirations and also compliments our own personal views:

<< The first step in curing ignorance is to recognize that one does not know. Once people recognize their own ignorance, they can go off in "search of knowledge" (Çalab al-‘ilm)— which, as everyone knows, "is incumbent on every Muslim," and indeed, one would think, on every human being. No recovery of the intellectual tradition is possible until individuals take this step for themselves. The tradition will never be recovered through taqlâd or by community action, only by the dedication of individuals, through their own, personal taÁqâq. Governments and committees cannot begin to solve the problem, because they start from the wrong end. Understanding cannot be imposed or legislated, it can only grow up from the heart. >>

-Vadim

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Great article from National Geographic Adventure Magazine:

How to Survive (Almost) Anything: 14 Survival Skills

#8: Every new challenge you face actually causes your brain to rewire itself and to become more adaptable. A study at University College London showed that the city’s cab drivers possessed unusually large hippocampi, the part of the brain that makes mental maps of our surroundings. The fact that London has very strict requirements for cab drivers forced them to create good mental maps, which caused their hippocampi to grow. For most of us, a normal routine at work, home, and play will provide plenty of opportunities for simple mind-expanding exercises. For example, if you’re right-handed, use your left hand. Learning to write with your nondominant hand can be extremely challenging and builds a part of your brain that you don’t use much. Learn a new mental skill, such as chess or counting cards for blackjack. Learn a musical instrument or a foreign language. A recent study suggests that Chinese uses entirely different parts of the brain than Western languages. Take tasks that require no thought and re-invent them so that you have to think. This bears repeating: Survival is not about equipment and training alone. It’s about what’s in your mind and your emotional system. Living in a low-risk environment dulls our abilities. We must make a conscious effort to learn new things, to force ourselves out of our comfort zones.

http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2008/08/everyday-survival/laurence-gonzales-text

-Vadim