Digs: Thamel 327, Kathmandu, Nepal

I discovered Thamel 327 on the booking.com website. It had great reviews, was centrally located & looked clean & more modern than the places I’ve stayed in recently. I wasn’t disappointed when I arrived. The staff were friendly, checked me in quickly & apologised for a mix up with my dorm. I was exhausted & not that bothered as I would be in the right dorm the following night.

The hostel had an attached restaurant, a booking office to book activities & a small garden area. They gave us maps & pointed out all the major tourist sights & recommended restaurants. The wifi was a mix between decent & non existent. You had to log in every time you wanted to access it so that was a bit annoying. It was reasonably priced at 300NPR per night, not the cheapest hostel – that was the nearby  The Happily Ever After Hostel , 150NPR per night!

Thamel 327 offered a luggage storage service for trekkers & collection & drop off taxi service (at an additional cost). The staff are friendly, helpful & efficient. I also loved the area & felt it was central to many great restaurants, shops & trekking agencies. It was an easy walking distance to the Garden of Dreams &Durbar Square.

I stayed in the 10 bed female dorm during my stay here. The bunk beds were comfortable & the rooms were en suite with 2 toilets & a shower attached.  I made some great friends here, some of whom I’m still in touch with & hope our paths will cross again. I stayed here for about one week so I got to know the girls well & our dorm had a great welcoming atmosphere which new people were invited into.

Thamal 327 is a great base & I will stay here again if/when I return to Kathamandu.

Bunk Stay Hostel, Rishikesh, India & my relentless quest to withdraw cash

In Rishikesh I stayed in Bunk Stay Hostel. It had just opened a month previous & was one of the few hostels with availability when I booked due to the Holi festival approaching the following week. The staff here were all very friendly & helpful. I was lucky enough to stay in my same room for the duration of my stay whereas people booking additional nights were being shuffled to different rooms. I was also extremely fortunate to meet a lovely fellow backpacker who is totally my kind of person! It’s so refreshing to bump into people who you just get on so well with from the offset. We have similar attitudes & our passion for food & tasting everything is on par! We tasted many ‘Hello to the Queen’’s in Rishikesh!

Bunk Stay Hostel had a great rooftop restaurant & common area with an amazing view of the monkey bridge, sunset & ganges. They offer free Chai around sunset time so it was the perfect excuse to sit & chat with fellow backpackers. I was lucky to fall in with a great bunch of people with a fantastic sense of humour.

Sunset over Rishikesh

The staff at the hostel are really helpful. The morning I left I was having an absolute nightmare trying to get cash out of the atm. I tried the day before & none of the atm’s were working. It was so stressful as there were monkeys everywhere & I needed cash to settle my bill. I tried 7 atm’s on either side of the bridge but frustratingly they weren’t working or spat out an error number on my receipt docket, withholding my cash. I literally spent four hours on this mission before retreating to the hostel to ensure I had the money in my account. As expected, I did. When I explained my problem to the guys at the hostel one of them took me on his motorbike to try more atms. I warned him about my monkey fear & he calmed me when we sped past rogue monkeys. I still couldn’t access my money. The atm had cash because the person before me got money out, & I had money in my account to take out so I couldn’t understand the issue.

Totally fed up & stressed out I called into a travel agent to see if they would exchange euro’s I had. I asked if I could check if my card was working on their card machine & they let me do a transaction to get my money. Thank goodness! For a small fee I had rupees again!

My entire last morning in Rishikesh was wasted dodging monkeys & hunting down atm’s. If you go to India make sure you take enough rupees when you visit the smaller towns. It has been a real pain & complete waste of my mornings twice now. Example number 477 of how India is a hell of a lot more effort than it needs to be.

Rishikesh, India

On my arrival to Rishikesh I didn’t even have a chance to sigh in relief at being in more serene conditions due to the suffocating volume of monkeys roadside. I wound my taxi window up frantically & looked terrified much to my Swiss taxi companion’s amusement. I was a fool to think escaping Hampi would equate to escaping monkeys. It was a 20 minute taxi ride to Rishikesh passing many monkeys who had ventured to the outskirts of the jungle. There were many signs for drivers to beware of elephants crossing – similar to those we have for cattle & deer back in Ireland. Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants but maybe that was a good thing because I heard 8 people per month are killed in Rishikesh by ‘angry elephants’. I’m not sure why the elephants are so angry or how they murder their victims…. In my head they are a peaceful & placid creature.

I spent the entire taxi ride trying to keep my shit together & fretting about what side of the bridge the driver would drop me off. Surely enough he ditched me on the opposite side of the bridge to my hostel. I wandered towards the shops looking for a bridge & quickly found it, along with picking up a Dutch backpacker. This poor guy was my rock for the next ten minutes!

As we approached the bridge I immediately told him about my paralysing fear of monkeys & unburdened all my angst about crossing the monkey bridge. His face was a mix of empathy & vague dismay at stumbling upon such a vulnerable & somewhat ungrounded fellow backpacker. As we descended the steps to the bridge my internal organs strangled at the sight of several monkeys jumping & grabbing at people from the bridge railings. I looked desperately for another way across the river. I was out of luck. This was the only way to my hostel. My Dutch companion watched as I lost all my composure & stepped reluctantly towards the busy bustling bridge of fear.

Inside I was screaming as I took the first few steps towards the monkeys. The bridge was overcrowded with people walking slowly, taking pictures of the Ganges & taking pictures with the monkeys. Motorbikes were haphazardly speeding through the crowd & the bridge was narrow enough to touch both sides with my arms stretched out. After passing the first set of monkeys I felt my confidence & carefree adventure crumble. I was now trapped on all sides by monkeys & my only viable escape would be to throw myself off the bridge & tumble into the Ganges. This option was looking more appealing by the second.

I tightened my backpack & clutched my rucksack tightly, put my head down & powered through the slow messy slew of people. Monkeys jumped on the ground in front of me & dashed along the railings carrying their babies. A man popped out at me with one on his shoulder asking if I wanted a picture with it. I recoiled & prayed for this nightmare to end. I was halfway across the bridge pausing reluctantly for motorbikes to pass & shouting ‘excuse me’ to the lackadaisical tourists enjoying the scenery. My heart was beating out of my chest & my palms were sweaty. I was never so happy in my life to see the end of a bridge!

6 monkeys were gathered at the end of the bridge & I could see others on the roofs & power lines on the other side. I knew my monkey ordeal would not be over once I made it to land again. I wallowed in horror as the incessant screaming in my head fizzled out & I forced my legs to complete their task. I passed the last pack of monkeys without incident & scurried away from the bridge as fast as my backpack carrying body could go. Luckily my hostel, Bunk Stay, was easy to find & I was quickly at the bottom of the set of steep stairs to reach it. The crowd on the other side of the bridge was a blur as I was recovering from my traumatic ordeal & still on edge of fear of more monkeys. My Dutch friend reassured me & I felt my anxiety not subside, but not escalate further in his company.

At the top of the steps, breathless & emotionally exhausted we checked into the hostel & I went for a much needed lie down. How am I going to cope in Rishikesh??? My anxiety is palpable.

The Goan Corner, Hampi, India

 

The Goan Corner is on the ‘other side’ of Hampi, if that makes any sense. One side of the Tungabhadra River through Hampi has the temples hotels & restaurants. If you cross the river to the ‘other side’, Virupapur Gaddi, you get more cafes & restaurants & some guest houses. I don’t think there’s much else really – Rice paddy fields & the most awesome place to watch the sunset!

One thing to note is the night buses can drop you at either side of the river. My friends arrived much later than me because they were dropped off in hospet & had to take a tuktuk to Hampi then wait on the boat service to start. It isn’t a big hassle, but nice to know beforehand.

The entrance to the hostel

This hostel is really laid back & caters fantastically to backpackers needs. They were quite casual when we tried to make a booking & told us just to arrive & they’ll sort us out. We are a small easygoing, optimistic, group of 3 so we were happy with this arrangement. Maybe during busy high season people would prefer confirmation. There seems to be a lot of decent (read ‘backpacker decent’) accommodation in the area, I wouldn’t have worried if they couldn’t fit us in as there are many other options.

We got a little hut with a double bed & they put an extra mattress on the floor for us. Altogether it cost about 500 rupees per night. The toilets & showers were dotted around in separate blocks, they were average clean & a mix of traditional & western toilet style. The huts were dotted around & gave a real community feel. We quickly became friends with our neighbours & chilled out on their hammocks. The electricity cut out during the day which was a killer when you were relying on the fans to keep your temperature at non fatal levels, however I have come to expect the power failures. The internet was ok but it was cut off all night so no late night facetimes….

The Goan Corner has a big outdoor restaurant area which is really sociable. I found that if you rock up at a table of strangers they happily welcome you & chat easily to you. Equally when anyone approached a table I was at we, of course, quickly invited them to join us. I know this is down to individual attitudes, but this spirit is actively promoted by the staff as though we are unconsciously influenced to adopt the demeanour of the hostel.

The staff are really nice & attentive. I told them my name once & they remembered it for my entire stay. They make a tab & all your food, drinks, laundry, bus ticket, & accommodation goes on it until you depart. The main lady Shamila is lovely & welcoming (at home she would be described as ‘dead on’ or ‘sound’. For 3 nights accommodation, meals, lots of water & laundry & a bus ticket to Bangalore I paid a grand total of £11.

The food is really good!

There is an entourage of dogs & cats who are really cute & friendly. Some of my friends grew very attached to their newfound live in pets! I was less lovestruck when the pug kept using my leg as a leaning post to attain the perfect leverage to stick his nose up his asshole…

The Goan Corner offers exceptionally cheap rooftop dormitory accommodation at 150 rupees per night. I wouldn’t even consider this option due to the manic morning monkeys who like to run around this rooftop in the morning grabbing what they can & making mischief. I would have a heart attack if I woke face to face with a monkey!!!

My friends on top of the boulders, I’m watching from the comfort of the hostel & my chai!

You can definitely put in plenty of lazy days at the Goan corner & I can see how people get stuck there for a while. Personally Hampi is getting far to hot for me. I cannot function well above 30 degrees so all productivity ceases & I go into survival mode at 40 degrees. I have to flee somewhere cooler!

You can find their contact number HERE on their Facebook page.

What’s a little nail polish between friends?

I can be a slightly ridiculous packer – as we all know. I have, of course, taken 3 nail polish & nail polish remover with me. I’m not vain, I just feel really grubby with plain nails. I think this stemmed from working in massage where I spend much of my time looking at my hands & I would despise my nails if they weren’t clean, tidy & polished. I have a silver for my toes & white & duck egg blue for my fingers. Nothing fancy, just clean & simple. Yes, my new companions have taken water filter tablets & uv sterilisers & I have nail polish… But hey, it makes me happy!

The cleaners at Summer hostel are lovely & chatty. They laugh with me everyday as I keep extending my stay & even join in my Skype calls to my friends & family. One day I was getting ready to go out when one of the ladies ran up to me saying “I’m sorry, my god told me in my dream that I had to tell you what I did!”

I was so confused as to what was upsetting this sweet & usually smiley lady. She held out her hand to me & I look it assuring her that everything is ok. Then she turned her nails to me to show me we had the same nail polish on. The exact same nail polish!

After I polished my nails the day before I left the nail polish on my bed & the cleaner seen it & clearly quite fancied it! I told her it was fine & laughed with her. Then the other cleaner came in – with the same nail polish on her fingers! I laughed louder at these two ladies sneaking my nail polish on when I was out. I took a picture of our identical manicures & whilst I was doing so I glanced to the floor & seen that they had done their toes too! Hilarious! We all laughed & admired the colour. I gave them my white polish & I couldn’t find the blue one again… I presume they are stilling painting their nails with it.

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We all have great taste in nail polish!

Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia

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I was blessed with this beautiful sunset on my first night at Padang Bai

 Feeling the crushing overwhelming press of the tourists in Ubud* I fled to Padang Bai on the East Coast of Bali. At this time of year the East Coast is preferable than the West Coast as the trade winds bring rubbish to the West. The East Coast is beautiful & pristine in comparison. Padang Bai is a quaint fishing village & the main port for transit to Lombok & the Gili islands. It has many diving schools for its small size, plenty of restaurants & stalls to buy snacks for your onward journey.
I got the Perama shuttle bus from Ubud direct for 75IDR/£5 & it took approx. 2 hours. I  stayed in Bamboo Paradise which is a 2 minute walk from the Parama Bus Depot. The hostel is clean & chilled with a big outdoor area & friendly staff. Breakfast is a filling selection from a menu including pancakes, omelette, toast, tea/coffee & fruit salad.
The next day I had to check out (which was a shame because I had the larger lower bunk bed!). I moved to Fat Barracuda on the beach front. It had sturdy bunk beds, wifi, plugs & a light at every bed & a great location. It is not so much a hostel as a dorm room & separate small reception area which serves snacks & drinks. Both hostels I would recommend & both cost around 100IDR/£7 per night.
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Peaceful Blue Lagoon Beach

I thought the food in Padang Bai was average. I didn’t find a restaurant I really enjoyed & I didn’t have anything as tasty as the food I tried in Ubud. That’s not to say good food is not available. I’m really trying to be careful with how much I spend & the breakfasts included with the accommodation really set me up for the day.
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The guacamole was wrong on too many levels

I’m on a shoestring budget & opted to stay on the mainland & explore rather than venture to the islands. They look beautiful though so hopefully I’ll be able to go next time! I noticed that prices for the boats dropped considerably in the evening for boats departing the following morning so if I return I will haggle the prices in the evenings rather than prebooking boats – however this was at the end of the season when the boats are crossing only partly full. Maybe in high season you should expect to pay more.
After 2 days in Padang Bai & without doing a diving course or crossing to the islands I was ready to move on.
*The ‘crushing, overwhelming press of tourists’ wasn’t even that bad to be honest. I’m being a bit dramatic.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

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Ubud is a little tourist haven. It has everything a tourist could want, good, very good & cheap food! Ice cream, souvenir & clothes shops, temples, a monkey forest, traditional dancing. Is that everything covered?? Some people use it as a base to travel from & hire scooters to explore. There are massage salons dotted around the streets & spas further afield (which will collect you in town & drop you back). I can see why it is so popular!

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I am staying in a new hostel called Junking Hostel. It is centrally located on monkey forest road & walking distance to lots of great restaurants!
The interior is incredible & the owner built everything himself over the course of several years. The breakfast is basic toast & fruit & you can help yourself to tea & coffee throughout the day (though you will have to provide your own milk). It is a great central location & still peaceful as it is off the street. The owners are friendly & his baby is adorable! Of course I got some baby cuddles!
The beds in the hostels were everything I love. Thick, sturdy bunk beds, plug & light in bunk & a curtain for privacy. Perfect! This is the winning formula for me! A great way to ease back into hostel life. Night everyone x

Franz Josef

Franz Josef is West Coast home to the 12km long Franz Josef Glacier. I was keen to see the glacier & booked on the Ice Explorer tour with the majority of the Stray bus. Unfortunately it was cancelled the next morning & did not go ahead whilst I was in Franz Josef. The weather is out of our control & safety is priority – In November 2015 a helicopter crashed here in poor weather killing seven. We are all very aware of the risks involved.

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I stayed in Franz Josef for 3 nights in total. The first night I stayed at the Rainforest Retreat* & the rest of my stay I was in Sir Cedric’s Chateau Franz**. I much preferred Chateau Franz which was cheaper, included breakfast, free popcorn, soup & bakery goods as well as free wifi. What a good deal! I liked the layout in the latter, I found it easier to mix with people, used the bbq & toasted marshmallows at the fire pit.

My second day in Franz Josef was drizzly rain & poor visibility so I did not do the track to the viewpoint at the bottom of the glacier. Instead we went on a track to see glow worm caves. The track was a quick 30 minute walk from my hostel & easy with an incline. I recommend waterproof boots if you do this hike as I was in Nike’s & didn’t make if far into the cave as it was too wet & stepping stones were getting far & few between. If you’ve missed glowworm caves on your trip around New Zealand then this is a fun less tourist packed way to experience glowworms. There are less here than the big attractions, so you will find it less impressive although I enjoyed the tranquility & exploring it myself.

That night we went for a 15 minute walk out of town with 10 freshly made fire pit friends. We found a clear patch on the road & lay down staring at the amazing stars. They were dazzling & the milky way was visible. I was literally starstruck in awe at the striking clear view we had. I cannot wait to get to Lake Tekapo & the dark sky reserve. Star gazing is definitely something I have appreciated much more in New Zealand.

 

*Rainforest Retreat

http://rainforestretreat.co.nz

 

**Sir Cedric’s Chateau Franz

http://sircedrics.co.nz/hostels-franz-josef/chateau-franz/