Kathmandu

We arrived in Kathmandu around 18:00.

Right away you can tell you are, let’s say, “not in kansas anymore”
The airport is dated, dark woods, old floors, looks like it has not been renovated in about 30 years. Baggage claim is tiny and guards actually check your luggage tag with the sticker you are given (on the back of your ticker – presumably to stop people from stealing bags which I guess happens.
Once you are out of the airport, all you see is taxi drivers trying to get your attention.

Advice: book a hotel or hostel that will pick arrange your airport transfer for you because these taxi drivers waiting at the airport will most definitely overcharge you because you are a tourist.

Our hotel did arrange airport transport but we were not able to send them our flight information in advance due to internet issues. We thought it would not be an issues. However, upon landing we realized it was. Both ATMs in the airport were broken and taxis do not accept credit cards.
We were able to call our hotel though and they sent a car for us right away so it all worked out fine.

Advice: Come to Nepal with US dollars. These are worth much more to locals than their own currency.
We did not have US dollars as we came from Denmark and Dubai and we made out just fine, but having some USD will make your trip to Nepal that much easier.

Our hotel for the first few nights was lovely. We stayed at Madhuben Guest House.
http://www.ktmmadhuban.hostel.com
The rooms were basic but clean. Our room had an ensuite bathroom and a TV. Our booking included the airport pick-up for free if you stay 2 nights or more and they included a very nice breakfast every morning.

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Choice of:
set breakfast: eggs any style, potatoes, toast with jam and butter and coffee/tea
Cornflakes
Porridge
We got the set breakfast every day 🙂

The hotel is also just around the corner from the Thamel neighborhood, the best place for tourist to be in Kathmandu – full of restaurants, shops, etc.

The hotel also had a travel desk to help with tours of the city, booking treks, etc. Later we found that this travel desk was actually part of a separate company called Adventure Bound. Rajan helped us so much! We arranged city sightseeing with him as well as our trek (more on that in another post).
http://www.adventureboundnepal.com

Continue reading Kathmandu

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Nepal Visa

For Nepal, the visa process is quite simple and you have two options:
1. get your visa at a Nepal Embassy
or
2. get your visa on arrival in the Kathmandu Airport

Both methods of getting your visa are very straight forward and simple so choose whichever works best for you.

Because we lived in a city with a Nepalese Embassy (i.e. Copenhagen) we decided to get our visa before our trip just so we would not have to think about it at the airport.

You have the option of a 15-, 30-, or 90- day visa with fees approximately $30, $50, $120 (fees will vary a bit based on currency and country – these were the prices in Denmark).
At the embassy you will pay for your visa and fill out a 1 page application. We only waited 20 minutes and then our visa was ready to go!

I definitely recommend this if you live in the same city as a Nepalese Embassy because it was just so quick and easy.

If you do not live near an embassy, just wait and get your visa in the airport.
You may have to wait in a bit of a line depending on how many flights get in at the same time as your flight but from what we saw the lines were not long and the visa officers were quick.

To get this visa you must have your passport, 1 passport photo and payment for your desired visa in cash (many currencies accepted). You must also fill out the visa application, which you can fine in the arrivals hall.

Detailed instructions can be found on this website:
http://welcomenepal.com/promotional/travel-essentials/visa-information/

Enjoy Nepal!

Dubai

In a nutshell, Glenn and I were less than impressed with Dubai.

We found everything overpriced. Nothing was local or authentic to the local culture, in fact, we couldn’t even tell you what the local culture was. We also found that as white, western, foreigners we were only directed towards the very expensive and the very high end, which we did not want.

The one thing we really wanted to see in Dubai was the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building.
Because we were so busy with the wedding and then packing for the trip and getting our affairs in order, I did not do quite as much research as I usually do before visiting a city, so I did not realize that we should book this in advance, but when we got there every entrance time was sold our for the full 3 days we were in Dubai except for the 10:45 pm time slot (and at that time there is really no point because not much is lit up at night so you cant see anything from the observation deck).
Then we were told that we could purchase a ‘fast pass’ ticket and enter the tower at anytime – the catch – 1 fast pass ticket costs nearly $100!!!!

We thought for a while but ultimately decided to just do it since we really wanted to see the tower and we definitely were not coming back to Dubai.
Let me just tell you, it was NOT worth it.
The view from the tower is just ok. It is cool for about 10 minutes but certainly not worth $100 pp. You can’t see the islands like the Palm or the World from the tower, plus the air is thick with either smog or humidity or dust so visibility is not great.

Here are some photos of the view so you can avoid paying to see it if you go to Dubai.

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Then once we came down from the top, we realized that there was a restaurant near the top of the tower (with the same views we just paid for) and that the dinner was about $120 pp. That would have been nice to know before we paid almost the same amount just to look out some high windows.

Along with that, we found no one in Dubai that was actually friendly or genuinely helpful. It seemed like you were really on your own when it came to tourist information and no one was there to help.

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We did take the time to watch the fountain show at the base of the Burg Khalifa but we both agreed that the show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas was much better.

Actually, we ended up concluding that Dubai was a lot like a not fun Las Vegas. The similarities are that both cities are very much a facade, full of overpriced things, chain restaurants, and nothing authentic. However, where Las Vegas has fun in the form of gambling, drinking and partying – Dubai only has rules on top of rules on top of more rules.

In the end we concluded one thing. Dubai is probably a great destination if you want a 5* hotel, if you want to buy designer brands that you can get at home but would rather buy abroad, and if you are NOT interested in local culture.
However, if you want an vacation with a sensible, realistic budget and if you would like to actually experience the place you are visiting – do not go to Dubai, go somewhere else.

The Dubai Mall

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Approaching The Dubai Mall from the metro

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The main thing I have to say about The Dubai Mall is that it is simply ridiculous. There are over 1200 stores!

they even had special “mall taxis” to help customers get around if the store they wanted was too far away.

Actually it reminded me a lot of The Mall of America (which is also completely ridiculous).

The mall was so huge that in the few hours we were there we barely made a dent in seeing it all, but in actuality it didn’t matter because basically all of the stores and restaurants were American or British or Canadian, etc. In the several hours we walked around in the mall I saw nothing that I could not find at home in America and that is not at all the way Glenn and I like to travel. When I travel, I want to try local food and buy something unique to the area I am visiting. I don’t want to shop in Abercrombie and eat Potbelly’s (yes there was a Potbellys in Dubai)

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Even though the stores are basically all western, don’t forget, you are still in Dubai and the UAE. This mall has a dress code, especially for women, though men are also expected to dress respectfully towards the cultural requirements.

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I did see many tourists walking through the mall not following the dress code and they seemed to make out fine, however, there were security guards and police everywhere and I personally would not have felt comfortable in a short skirt or shorts (I was wearing a maxi skirt and t shirt, plus I had a scarf with me just in case).

Dubai Metro

As you may have read in my previous post, we did not have good experiences with the taxis in Dubai.

The Dubai Metro on the other hand was wonderful!

First, I have never seen a public transportation system that was so clean. Everything was sparkling! One of the reasons for this cleanliness is that no eating or drinking is allowed on any of the trains. Even drinking water will get you a fine if you are caught.

The Dubai metro system is not large but it gets you to all of the “must see” places and the price is reasonable.
The trains are driverless and reminded us a bit of the monorail at DisneyWorld.
The trains seemed to always be running on schedule and there were great views of the city from the train.

I definitely recommend using the metro as the main way to get around Dubai.

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View of Dubai and upcoming station from front car of metro

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Beautiful metro station at night

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View of metro tracks

Dubai Taxis

The first thing we noticed upon leaving the airport is that locals are directed to normal looking taxis, while foreigners were directed toward shiny black lexus cars (clearly more expensive) and no choice was given in this matter.

The second thing we discovered about the taxis in Dubai was that none of them have a GPS system. Initially one might think that this indicates that the drivers really know the city well, however we found that was absolutely not the case.

One our way to our hotel, we told the driver the name of the hotel and showed him the address we had printed from our confirmation – he looked but clearly he did not really read it. Apparently we had actually booked a hotel in Sharjah (the next city over) and not Dubai (our mistake) but the driver took us to Dubai anyway because he didn’t actually read the address we showed him, and then complained that we told him to go to the wrong place. And he definitely overcharged us for that trip.

Another taxi ride from Dubai city center to our hotel, which should have taken maximum 20 minutes, took 1.5 hours! Apparently the driver had never been to Sharjah before (so we have no idea why he agreed to drive us there in the first place). He stopped for directions 4 times and still could not get us to our hotel! Finally we got out and changed to a local Sharjah taxi who got us to our hotel in 5 minutes.

So, my main advice about Dubai Taxis:
1. be sure your hotel is actually in Dubai and not in Sharjah or other neighboring area
2. try to have directions ready because the driver likely will not know how to get you where you want to go unless it is a top 10 touristy destination
3. get ready to be wildly overcharged if you are a foreigner

Dubai Visa

For both US citizens and Danish citizens, no visa is needed in advance to enter the UAE. Immigrations officials simply stamp you passport when you walk through immigration in the airport and that grants you permission to stay in the country for 30 days.

To check if you need a tourist visa or not please refer to the following website.
http://www.emirates.com/english/plan_book/essential_information/visa_passport_information/uae_visas.aspx

Please also be aware that the UAE is very strict about the kinds of medications you can bring into the country.
Here is a list of the restricted medications for the UAE
http://www.uaeinteract.com/travel/drug.asp

I will not share exactly what for privacy reasons, but we were carrying a 4 month supply of a certain medication and were very heavily questioned about it even though the medication was not listed on the restricted list and we were traveling with the original labels, the prescription and a doctors note.

It all ended fine and we were allowed to enter the country with all of the medication but it was nerve wracking for a while.

If you will be traveling to the UAE with medication double check this to be sure your medication is not confiscated.