Published: October 25th 2008October 25th 2008
Site of many temples and shrines. We had lunch nearby.
Our last day and evening in Penang was alot of fun. Sheri bought yet another swim suit, so we went to the pool for about an hour. It just so happens that when we get back to our room, the renovations down the hall are making me nauseous. So we ask for another room. They move us to a suite, facing the Andaman Sea (part of the Indian Ocean). We had a room like this last year. It is an extremely large room, with a living room, jacuzzi tub on the deck, and a shower with 5 shower heads, and large enough to hold a big dining table. To fill the tub, you call the butler, and have him/her draw it based on five options.
We made a short visit to the spa as well. It has individual suites for treatment rooms. As you walk through a garden, you enter a doorway that leads to another long walkway and garden. At the end of this walk are an outdoor tub, and an outdoor shower. The treatment rooms are to the left and right, depending on single or couples treatments. The area has an entertainment center, hot and cold tea, and
A small town inside of a big city
Each area of Katmandu is like a little town.
many spa options like herbal wraps and things I never can understand.
We took a 2 hour nap, in anticipation of the evening's festivities. Jason and Chun picked us up and took us to their favorite local Indian restaurant. We had our first banana leaf meal, which consists of rice and three types of curry. We added some chicken and lamb, as well as naan for a complete, but spicy dinner. From there, we headed for the famous Malay delight, a dessert called ABC. We ended up in a food stall about 1/2 mile away, and got our ABC. Chun ordered green worms. It turns out that the worms are made from a sweet gelatin. The ABC has shaved ice, sweet syrup, fruit, sweet corn, beans, and various flavors of gelatin.
From here, it was on to the night market. Sheri bought some Rolexes for her friends, and I bought a RADO for myself. I may have overspent for my watch, as it was $5 USD. We also bought lots of pirated CD's, like Seinfeld, 24, and some music as well. Tired, full, and shopped out, we said good bye to our friends until the next time. Or
A Trip on Buddha Air
We waited all morning for the one hour ride to Everest
on Buddha Air
they may come and visit us if we ever get our kitchen remodelled.
We rose early for the flight back to Bangkok, then on to Kathmandu, Nepal. We got here around 1 pm, and found a great guide named Raj, who formerly resided near Everest. We had a quiet and early evening, as we had a 5:45am appointment for a flight to Mt. Everest this morning. We arrived at the airport, only to find several fog delays. After several bad cups of coffee, we got on the 9:30am Buddha Airlines flight over the Himalayas, and on to Everest. Once up in the air, the flight attendant pointed out all of the various peaks. Then each of us (taking turns from our seat to the cockpit) got to see the mountains,including Everest from the cockpit of the plane!!! No way will they allow something like that back home. It is very important to point out that although Everest is spectacular, all of the major peaks are noteworthy, and interesting in their own way. We also saw Base Camp, and many small and large farms terraced in the mountains.
The ride got a little bumpy at high altitude, but we survived, and earned an Everest certificate!! Once back on the ground, our guide took us to downtown Kathmandu for a long needed meal. We had a fried rice dish, along with some grilled fish. It was the first meal that we enjoyed here, as the native spices are a little to strong and sour for us. We went on a walking tour of several temples in Durbar Square, including the famous golden pagoda. We also saw a few monkeys, and lots of stray dogs. The temples and pagodas in the Square were built about 500 years ago. They exhibit great craftsmanship in wood carvings, and metal etching, along with intricate brick work.
We also stopped by the famous "monkey" temple, near the top of the city. The view was fantastic. This area is much cooler than the SE Asia we normally see. A jacket is definitely needed at night. In fact, we had a huge thunder and lightning rainstorm last night as we were having dinner. The monkeys were very tame, and respond to noises, much like dogs. The number of beggars along the temple walkway numbered in the dozens, mostly older people, and handicapped. Sheri, as usual, had to give each person some money, for which they were very grateful. They look you in the eye when they thank you, and give a very appreciative bow as well.
From here, it was on the Thamel, an area known for shopping, tourist hotels, and great places to eat. But it is a traffic nightmare. The driver told us there are NO rules for driving the roads. It is a mix of pedestrians, trucks, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles, with everybody enjoying the use of their horn. We also drove through the wholesale fruit and produce area. By far, the most plentiful items are apples, oranges, cabbage, and cauliflower, by the thousands. Picture chaos, add traffic, terrible roads, noisy horns, and you have experienced Kathmandu at its best (or worst).
We plan to rest up today, as we may either head out to a animal reserve, or a famous and beautiful city called Baktapur, about 25 minutes away. We will also go back to Thamel to pick up a few souvenirs and T shirts. The country is truly depressed, due to heavy corruption by both the King and the Prime Minister. The young people cannot wait to get out. Yet, the mountains, temples, and forests here are among the world's most spectacular. Oh, and just to make sure we get to see life as it really is here, our guide is having us for dinner before we leave. He wants us to see how the locals live and eat. We can't wait!!!
We had a quiet evening again last night. We enjoyed some cocktails and high tea here in the hotel. We met up with a fellow named Gene on our trip to Everest. Turns out he got sick, and we found his wife in the lounge just by chance. They are on a 5 month trip throughout the world, mostly SE Asia, using Bangkok as a base. Gene was dehydrated, and also caught a 24 hour bug, but they are on their way back to Bangkok today. They bought a 5 month pass on Cathay Pacific, and plan to visit SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Afrika, and Eastern Europe. They are well into their 70's, and travel with just a carry on.
We had a quiet breakfast this morning here at the hotel. Our guide, Raj and driver Ghopal showed up around 9 am. Also there was Raj's 9 year old daughter, Angela. Just a delight, friendly, took us by the hand everywhere we went. She reads English quite well, and is so well behaved. We invited her for a swim later if she has time. They just finished exams at her school, and the rest of the weekend is a Holiday. The Holiday includes the famous Himalayan Water Festival. Tomorrow, they will throw water balloons and colored "paint" at each other, all day long. We got a little of that today as we walked around town.
Our first stop was another Hindu temple, just full of monkeys, stray dogs, and the sacred cattle. The sacred cattle are worshipped, and not eaten. The monkeys add character. I don't know what the dogs do, except make Sheri homesick for our little Buddy. Most of the dogs are filthy, but quite docile. Some look pretty old and sad. There are always lots of beggars. Sheri, and her new little friend, Angela, gave money to many of the old, handicapped, and infirm. It was a very heartwarming experience to see such a young girl doing this.
We walked around the temple grounds, until we saw two bodies getting ready for the burning ritual. Even though I have seen my share of dead bodies, corpses, and cadavers, this was just not a very pleasant experience. They drape the body in white, then cover with bright yellow cloths. They prepare a large wood fire, and place the body on/in it. I guess it is all about what you believe and practice. We had to leave.
From there, it was a short ride over to Thamel, the tourist and shopping area on Kathmandu. We saw the famous Kathmandu Guest House, where tourists just beg to stay. It is in the middle of Thamel, which is filled with stores and stores, making a shopping mall or factory outlet look like a corner store. Every square inch of land is used for selling souvenirs, T shirts, wood carvings, art work, food and drink. It is quite overwhelming at first. Then you have to decide to focus on purchasing just one thing at a time. When you are doing this, you are also trying to avoid cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, hand carts, trishaws, and many other shoppers. It is sensory overload at its best. But it is fun once you get into the spirit of the area, and its craziness, and non stop hustle and bustle.
We finally stopped for lunch at the famous Rum Doodle Restaurant. This place serves pretty basic food, but is well known for its paper footprints. Just about every wall is covered with a foot long paper foot print, onto which people or groups who have reached Everest Base Camp, sign their names, countries, slogans, logos, cartoons. We looked for our friends James and Theresa, but did not find them. We had a nice lunch on the 3rd floor terrace. They used an outdoor oven to make the pizza, which cooked in about 3 minutes. The highlight of this place is a foot print signed by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, to reach the summit of Sagamartha, or Mt. Everest as we know it. Everybody who has reached the summitt can eat for free here.
After lunch, a little more crazy shopping, this time for T shirts. We bought the cutest red T shirt with a tiger head for little Angela. We walked with her, hand in hand, along the streets. We got alot of stares from the locals, as they could not figure us out. We even had some Nepalese come up to us, and ask us about her.
We got the feeling that this was not a normal, everyday thing. Also, she did not seem to be crazy about pizza, like most American kids.
As we left, and drove through the streets of Kathmandu, several things come to mind. It is a large, dirty,crowded, and relatively poor city, with alot of people out of work. The water is not clean enough for even the locals to drink. Though the poverty is everywhere, people do not appear mean or aggressive. There are alot of hawkers, so they do want to sell something ALL the time. We do not see a lot of other Americans here. Most of the Caucasians are from England, Australia, or Europe. But there is a spirit here that you cannot find any where else. I don't know if the mountains inspire them, or their religion buoys their spirit. Somehow, I think they realize this is one of the most unusual, and special places on earth, and they want to share it with you.
Tomorrow, we see the Water Festival, and take a plane back to Bangkok for a night. From there, we meet our friend, Mike, and head to Laos. It would take several weeks to really see this great country, as we only scratched the surface. Raj has offered to take us on a 2-3 week trek next time. I also wanted to go mountain biking, and canyoning, but we did not have enough time. Next time!!!
We awoke this morning to the sun rising over the largest Buddhist temple here in Kathmandu. It was a spectacular sight. Back home, when I am heading out of the gym back to my car, I see the sun rise and think of all the places in the world where we have been. I also think that no matter what, we have things pretty good compared to the rest of the world. We know we can drive, eat a meal, buy gas, have shelter and a job, and access to health care. These people live day to day, or even moment to moment, where the slightest little thing is important.
Yesterday, at one of the temples, Sheri handed one of her flowers to a handicapped lady. The boy in the wheel chair next to her asked if he could have the other one. After handing it to him, she received a very grateful bow, and he was happy for the moment. We wished we had flowers for everyone. The beggars line most of the temples, and it is okay to give to the old, inform, and handicapped. The locals do not want us to give money to the able bodied, esp the kids.
We did not realize the political corruption here is among the worst in the world. Just yesterday, with the upcoming election on March 25, one candidate stabbed and killed an opponent. At least we don't have Hillary and Obama doing that. The locals say that once any one gets into power, they only seek to line their pockets. We told them it is the same everywhere, just not so obvious as here. But the UN has a very strong presence here, to help the military keep peace. We have not seen any demonstrations yet, but they expect violence as the election day gets closer.
Like much of SE Asia, it appears that speaking good English is the ticket to a better job. The staff here in the hotel are extremely well spoken, well groomed, and pleasant. Intuitively, you just know that they do not live in a hut with no water or electricity. In fact, at the gate to the hotel, they keep locals from entering unless they have specific business here. When the casinos opened a few years ago, the Nepalis were squandering what little they have on gambling.
A note about food now. It is hard to find a good quality, healthy meal here. The spices are certainly different than Thai, or Pakistani food that we love. There is a certain sour or bitter taste to most items, except the breads and naan. The fruit is fairly good, along with the simple breakfast pastries. Coffee is certainly not up to our standards, but people(locals too) love to drink it here. Tourists are the only ones carrying water bottles, but our guide says the water here is terrible. It would be easy to go on a diet here.
I have mixed feelings about this country. I think we need to get out to the countryside next time, and see how life goes out there. Big dirty cities are just that, and similar to those found anywhere. OUr guide, who grew up near Everest, says the countryside is clean, food plentiful, and landscapes outstanding. We can't wait.
Our last day in Kathmandu was interesting to say the least. We got to see the water festival, called Happy Holi in full color. And I do mean color. All the kids, and mostly men are throwing water and water balloons at everyone else. Some water balloons contain a color, like bright red, blue or yellow. Some people are covered from head to toe. Others have just been drenched at the head and neck. It is a fun filled time, but is really meant to celebrate the Spring and the cleansing that comes with water. The Buddha was covered with water to wash away the bad spirits, cleanse the soul, and start fresh each year.
After a nice, up front view of this show, we moved on to Raz's home for lunch. He lives near the airport in a one room place. He lives there with his wife, 9 year old daughter, and elderly Mother. It is about 10 feet by 10 feet, at most. It has no electricity, and uses gas to power a 3 burner stove. The room has plastic covering the ceiling, cement floor, and room for 2 very small beds. His wife serves us lunch on large silver plates that are placed on the floor as she serves it. We then each get a plate and eat. We had rice, potato, greens, and chicken. It was all very good, and we did not have any repercussions from it at all. We did bring our own water however. His wife got to eat, ONLY after we were done. She has to eat off the same plate as her husband, Raz!!! The style of eating does not use a fork or chopsticks. They just make a ball with the rice and other items, and feed themselves with their right hand. The left hand cannot be used for this, as it is used for toilet duty only.
While this was quite a revelation to us, this is the way people live. He is from the countryside, and lives in the city, only to educate his daughter, and to make money to help build schools, and clinics. We gave both the driver, Ghopal, and Raz a very nice payment when they dropped us at the airport. We gave Angela, the daughter, $5 as well. Sheri had tears in her eyes as we said goodbye. It was a fitting climax to an interesting, educational, yet fun experience in a different culture. We will never forget it. We also realize how nice and easy we have things back home.