Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Arrival to Kathmandu - October 2012

The bus drops us off at the airport hall which is about 100 feet from where the plane unloaded us. I estimate that we could have walked the distance faster.

There is the typical airport buzz present here, casual conversations take place between travelers as they are waiting to go through customs. The line is not moving fast.

Around us is a room in a need of modernization. The only furniture is an old table on which custom forms are scattered and few metal chairs. The emptiness has a cold, nearly unfriendly feel. More of an interrogation room than an airport hall it reminds me, and that feeling gets even stronger once our turn comes up.

We face 4 immigration officers. They sit in a row on the same metal chairs the rest of the room is furnished with, their faces show no emotion.

The first officer takes our money. $40.00 each for a 30-day visa. We step towards the second one who scans our passport and hands it down the line. Now we are in front of the third officer. His job is to check our visa forms. Once he approves them, all our paperwork makes one last move. The last officer places a visa sticker to our passport and we are free to go.

Outside we find a beehive of people, each pushing their way through the crowds with a specific task in their mind. Hundreds of luggage helpers. Taxi drivers on their hunt for clients. On the other side of the street there is a very long line of reps from variety of travel agencies. After 28 hours of travelling I’m thankful for finding our rep in the beginning of that line. We receive our first friendly welcome and in the next five minutes we are leaving the chaos behind.

It’s completely dark, street lamps are non existing. Not much can be seen outside except for loosely lying bricks and piles of sand. It’s like driving through a never ending construction site which is a sight as we learn later common not only to this particular part of town but to the whole country. The road gets from bad to worse, the bumps feel bigger and they are more frequent the further we get from the airport but eventually this mostly primitive road drops us off in front hotel Shankar. During its prime it must had been a stunning structure. Now the siding is peeling and its white color has long been spoiled by mossy mildew but the architecture itself still impresses us.

The interior is preserved better, a large hall decorated with mandalas, plenty of light and has welcoming feel. Same goes for the room. Everything is clean, there is plenty of space, and soon after our arrival a basket full of fruit is delivered.

It’s about 2:00 a.m. now, time to get some rest before our Nepal adventure begins tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hong Kong - October 2012

The flight seems never-ending, but finally breakfast is served and shortly afterwards we start descending. Underneath us lies Hong Kong. The city is just awakening and in the mist of this hazy morning we start recognizing shapes of the islands. As we get closer a skyline rises and finally we are low enough to distinguish individual buildings.  Our adventure is about to begin!

After a short wait at the customs we get our visa. We follow the crowd of travelers into a large airport hall. Hotel booths with their bright advertisements compete for our attention, a line of taxis awaits outside. At the information desk where we learn the fastest and most comfortable way of getting to the downtown of Hong Kong Island is the Airport Express. We make our way through the pond of people rushing to their gates or aiming for the shops and then onboard the train we leave the airport scene behind. 

Star Ferry is the first attraction we decide to experience. The ferry, running since 1880, was named as one of 50 places of a lifetime by The National Geographic Traveler and is known as one of the world’s best value-for-money sightseeing trips. The design we see today is from 1950’s, wooden construction 2 decks high. The bottom is painted green, top part is white and along both sides hangs life wheels in matching colors. The interior is simple, open floor with several rows of benches. Surprisingly we find out the front is air conditioned. 

It is a short sweet ride, and on the other side we step out onto Kawloon located North of Hong Kong Island. We don’t have enough time to explore the whole peninsula but several hours are plenty to get a feel for Tsim Sha Tsui district. That is if shopping is not on your “must do in Kawloon” list. In that case reserve several days as the streets are lined with stores, any brand name you can think of seems to be represented here. 

We are leaving the expensive luxuries behind headed for the waterfront. Avenue of Stars offers a stunning panoramic view across Victoria Harbor. It’s grey and blue colors compliment the skyline of Hong Kong Island. Set into the promenade are plaques honoring celebrities of the Hong Kong film industry.

Our next stop is Kawloon Park. Contrary to the bustling streets of Kawlooon here in the park one can find a moment of peace and solitude. Many locals come here to practice Tai Chi. We take a walk in the gardens, admiring the great variety of plants. Attractive blooms, leafy water plants, bamboo forest, that all keeps the camera busy. The trees especially catch our interest with long aerial roots hanging from the branches, some nearly touching the ground. More aerial roots grow near the bottom of their trunks, a complex net of them, clinging to walls for support.

The time is pressing us to return back to Hong Kong Island. Again we take the Star Ferry. Our eyes are on Hong Kong’s skyline, a dense forest of skyscrapers. Later we try to get a bird’s view of it from the 55th Floor of 2IFC tower (International Financial Centre), the second tallest building in Hong Kong but it is Saturday, a holiday as we are told, and we are not granted permission to enter the building.

Instead we head for the Mid-Level Escalators, the longest series of outdoor covered escalators in the world. There is a total of 20 separate escalators with streets that bi-sect the system. The ride is about 800 meters long and takes approximately 20 minutes. Along its course we get a peek at the district of SOHO, an entertainment district with many bars, restaurants, night clubs, and art galleries. 

Shortly afterwards  our time here is up. So long Hong Kong!  Our vacation is just starting and many more adventures await!