Back in Bangkok

Touchdown Bangkok for a 2 night “recovery” stay (hahaha!) before flying back home on Monday.  As the Thai Airways flight touched down at Suvarnabhumi, an elderly Japanese guy at the center column of seats looks across the plane windows and ask the guy seated across him, “This Bangkok?”  The guy answers in the affirmative.  If he had asked me, I probably would have said, “Bangkok?  No!  This Kathmandu.  Plane landed in Bangkok already.  You did not get off?  Plane now return to Kathmandu!”  Hahaha!  Some cheapskate stole the Eau de Toilete at the toilet.  It was there when I used the toilet twice.  It was gone when I returned a third time.

Deposited my luggage at the left luggage counter then took the Airlink to Rachadaprop station for the minute walk to GX Luxury Hostel.  I really like this place.  It’s clean, has very comfortable beds and pillows and the charcoal body wash is tops.  Unfortunately, it’s cramped so it’s good only for a few nights stay.

Had dinner at 

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Departing from Kathmandu

It isn’t all that bad at Kathmandu’s Tribuhvan Airport departing for my flight to Bangkok.  Perhaps, being a Saturday and off-season, it just takes me less than 20 minutes from Thamel including the short and quick car cue to enter the airport premises. 

The car parks at the international departures entrance and as soon as the car driver opens the trunk, a man with a push cart appears.  “No, no,” I say looking at both him and the driver who smiles knowingly.   I don’t need to pay someone to push my cart.  Signs declare that the use of push carts is free. I see a push cart nearby, grab it, then rush back to the car.  The man with a push cart leaves.

I check the lcd screen for the right entrance for Thai Airways and head to entrance B and take my place behind the short line outside.  I show my passport and ticket to the guard who dutifully reads it.  He returns my documents to me and signals me to enter.  In front of me is a young woman with her two young boys, all teary-eyed as they have just bade their husband/father goodbye.  Heart-breaking.  I say a quick prayer for them then put my luggage at the x-ray machine.  I find the counter for Thai Airways which had just opened.   

Very short line.  Once checked-in, I head up the escalator to Immigrations.

In spite of signs saying you must fill-up an embarkation card, there is no need.  I look for these at the wooden counters by the wall and find none.  “No card?”I ask a guy at a counter near where the cue starts. “No card ” he replies.  Only then do I see a crude hand-written sign at the counter.  The line is about 6 meters deep but moves quite quickly as two counters are servicing it.  

I emerge to a waiting area and the lines for the final security check.  It’s still early so I go grab a vegetarian burger and a Coke at one of the stalls. 

The line to the security check is long.  It’s a little strange as the tables where you put your stuff on trays is a few feet apart from the x-ray machine.  So you need to carry your tray to the machine upon the guard’s signal.  I clear security and I’m in at the boarding gates.  My ticket doesn’t indicate my gate so I check the lcd screen at the corridor that leads to the gate.  Only flights until 12 noon have gates indicated.  I head to one of the boarding gates to wait.  The place is swarming with people but I find a seat with a ground view of the tarmac.

The entire process from arriving at the airport to being seated where I am now takes an hour and a half.  Not bad for one. of the world’s worst airports.

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Phalcha: Nepal’s Resting Places

One of the things I noticed immediately when I walked the streets of old Kathmandu were these resting places.  Subsequent walks in Bungmati, Khokana, Changu, and Bhaktapur likewise revealed the prevalance of these structures.  Did a little research and discovered they’re called phalcha and have always been part of Nepali culture.

These resting places with their wooden floors and carved posts look very inviting. 

They’re also places for socialization.  I often saw groups elderly men in these “phalcha.” 

Some phalcha serve as stalls.

Phalcha may be attached to buildings or under houses and temples.  It could also be free standing as in under a tree.

I like the idea that there are places out there in the streets where you can just stop, rest, and perhaps have a little me time.

The phalcha is an example of how architectural spaces is part of the ebb and flow of life in the village.  

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Eating in Nepal

First of all, a disclaimer.  What follows next is totally based on my own taste buds.  

As one person who loves to eat, I wouldn’t rank Nepal as a foodie destination.  It sits alongside Myanmar.  By that, I mean I would be hard-pressed to be excited with the food as much as with the destination.  When I’m heading to Thailand, for example, I can’t wait to get my taste buds going with its curries, sticky rice, and barbecued pork.  China?  Then its Peking Duck.  Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so forth.  The Philippines?  Is there something to be excited about?  Are travelets excited to have some lechon and adobo? Well, whenever I  fly back home from my travels, I’m excited to have sinigang and lechon kawali.

Back to Nepali cuisine  What can excite me?  Momo? It’s cheap and delicious but it’s not something I would dream about.

That being said, Nepali cuisine IS NOT BAD. By that I mean it’s not yucky, tasteless, nor inedible. Many of the food I’ve eaten is actually delicious and best of all, come in sizeable servings.  My problem (and it’s really mine and not the cuisine’s)  I’m just not excited about it.
Here’s my run down on what I’ve eaten in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Bhakatapur where I stayed.

Momo 

It’s just fitting I start with the icon of Nepali cuisine, momo which has its origins in Tibet.  These dumplings encased in a thick flour wrapper come in vegetable, pork, chicken, buff, and some modern twists like potato and cheese and are served either steamed, pan fried, and deep fried.  

Momo at The Kathmandu Kitchen

Momo at a restaurant in Pokhara

Momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Momo from a street stall in Pokhara and placed in a bowl made of dried leaves used as take-away container

A street stall with a steamer is a sign that there”s momo

Other restos like my favorite, Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant in Thamel, has versions such as sizzling with mushroom gravy and stir-fried in chili paste. 

Sizzling momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Chili momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Though the basic momo seems to taste the same wherever you have it, what would set one stall or restaurant apart from the others would be the sauce it comes with.  I like Gilingche’s sweetish curry-like sauce.  Momo is cheap, filling, delicious, and widely available. Be warned, a serving consists of 10 pieces.  Unless you have a big appetite like mine, consider sharing.

Pakora

I think anything can be made into fritters— paneer (local cheese), potatoes, chicken, buff, eggs,  and of course, vegetables.  Good with chowmein or thukpa.

Egg pakora at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Thukpa

Nepalese noodle soup with a thick broth.  Perfect for winter time.  You can have it with vegetables, pork, chicken, buff, egg, or mixed.  I like pairing my thukpa with some momo.  The best thukpa I had was at All in One Cafe at Pokhara.  This unassuming small family-run cafe has delicious hearty food.

A hearty thukpa at All in One Cafe

Dethuk

This thin rice porridge is perfect for when you want something more filling than a thukpa.  It’s like a soup with rice and toppings of your choice such as chicken, pork, buff, vegetables, and egg.

Dethuk at Gilingche Nepali Kitchen

Fried Rice

When you order fried rice it’s because: a) you’re confused with the menu, b) you want something reliable, c) you really like fried rice.  

It depends on where you have it because I’ve had really uninspired ones at the pricier than usual restaurants at Bhaktapur such as Cafe de Peacock and Cafe Nyatapola whose only saving grace is the view of the squares where they’re at.  

Buff fried rice at Cafe Nyatapola

 The best is Gilingche’s cruncy fried rice.  Cruncy rice noodles are mixed with the rice which gives it an exciting texture.  The rice is very well-flavored, almost like a biryani.  

Crunchy vegetable fried rice at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant. You can have it with chicken, pork, or buff.

You’ll never go wrong with fried rice in Nepal no matter how ordinary it is made as the rice is very good quality–long grain and firm.  I noticed that tomato catsup and chili sauce is served as a condiment. At Gilingche, the same dipping sauce for the momo is likewise served with the fried rice.

My first meal in Nepal was buff fried rice at Gilingche paired with buff momo

Chowmien

Obviously Chinese, just like fried rice, fried noodles is an old standby in any Asian country.  Noodles are stir-fried with whatever you chose to put in it–vegetables, pork, chicken, egg, or mixed.

Egg chowmien at The Kathmandu Kitchen

Grilled Meats

I only saw these at Pokhara.  Chicken, buff, and pork are marinated and grilled in skewers.  They have salty curry taste which I really really love.  Pork is my favorite.  Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  By Fewa Lake, grilled pork is NR 100.  Along the tourist drag, it’s NR 200-300.  At restos, it’s NR 300 and up.

Barbecue in Pokhara

Barbecued buff in a take-away container

If you’re really hungry or have a big appetite, then the set meals called khali or thali are the best value.  You can choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.  You’re given a large round steel plate with little dishes around it and rice at the center.  All of that is refillable!  There are Nepalise, Indian, and Newari sets.

Nepali Kaja Set

Similar to an Indian thali, there’s dahl, vegetables, curry of your choice, rice, and curd.  The best thing about it is that everything is refillable! Yup!  Just simply ask for whatever you want refilled.  Actually, even before you ask for it, there’ll be someone asking you if you want more. 

You can’t go wrong on this one but the best thali is that of Thamel House Kitchen.  Yes, at NR 1,100 for (net) it’s more than what you pay for at other places.  On the other hand, Cafe Nyatapola’s set costs NR 990 (no taxes yet) and has much less included. Thamel House comes with dahl, chickpea salad, fried potatoes, and momo as appetizers; stewed mutton, stir-fried chicken in chili, stir-fried wild boar, spinach, vegetable curry, and rice as main course; and curd as dessert.  I liked it so much, I had the set both Christmas and New Year’s Day.


Newar Kali Set

The Newar are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley.  They have  a distinct language and culture with its brick architecture most apparent to visitors.  The vegetarian Newari set I had at Temple View Restaurant at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square had peanuts, chickpeas, potatoes, pickled vegetables, beaten rice (baji) and a thick pancake called bara  with a crisp outer layer.  

Newari set at Temple View Restaurant

It was the beaten rice that surprised as it was the first time I had it as a rice substitute.  Called pinipig back home, I’ve always had it as a topping for halo halo or as sticky rice like suman and biko.  

How about breakfast?

I never booked an in-house breakfast in any of my accomodations.  I figured, they’re already  deriving income from my stay so I should let others earn from my meals.  Spread the financial windfall of tourism to others.

Traditional Nepali breakfast is dahl bat which is lentil soup with rice.  Good and filling but I prefer mine with chapati.  Speaking of all those flat Indian breads, they’re part of Nepali cuisine.  

Continental breakfast is everywhere especially anything that has to do with eggs.  Don’t go looking for Eggs Benedict though unless you’re in an upscale place.

Breakfast at Gravity Cafe facing Fewa Lake in Pokhara

For something different in your omelet, try a masala omelet.  It’s got some tomatoes and onions and flavored with masala spice.

Masala omelet and chapati at Serengi Vegetarian Restaurant in Thamel

There are many Western-type bakeries/cafes such as Pumpernickle in Thamel with cinnamon rolls, croissants, puffs, and other breads.  

Nepalese snacks and sweets are also good and cheap.  Many seem to have Indian origins such as samosas and the sweets.  I didn’t try much of these as they mostly displayed along the road by street stalls and I’ve seen one too many flies on them.  Some itinerant vendors, however, have small glass display cases.

Various fried doughs such as “sel-roti” and the orange-colored “jeri.”

Why not buy at the market where Annapurna temple is and fry your own?

Do know that, it will be handed to you wrapped in a newspaper.

Bought this from a vendor at Pokhara. It’s rolled dough dipped in syrup.

This is like rolled chapati fried with egg and spread with a sweet salty jam. Tastes delicious. The one underneath is a “sel-roti.”

Sel-roti

Get it newly fried and it’s heavenly.  Particularly good when eaten with a dahl like soup for breakfast just as I did at a tea shop at the Nagarkot viewpoint before hiking to Changu Narayan.

Sel-roti, samosa, and pakora at a tea shop at Nagarkot viewpoint

Jeri

This fried dough with its beautiful round design is crispy and sweet.  Really sweet.

Samosas

Not just in India but in Myanmar and Nepal too.  From street corners to restaurants, samosas are everywhere.  Unlike its Indian counterpart though, it comes with a chili sauce rather than the sweetish tamarind sauce.

Samosas for breakfast at Serengi Vegetarian Restaurant in Thamel

Shabaley

Meat pie fried to a crisp.  I didn’t really enjoy this because it’s all air inside and the filling (I ordered pork) was pure meat, no vegetables, not even onions and carrots, which you would find in most meat pies in other cultures.  

Shabaley at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

You’ll see these pies half-fried at street stalls looking flat.  Order one and they’ll fry it until it puffs a bit.  

King Curd

There are curds and there’s king curd, a Bhaktapur specialty.  Unlike ordinary curds, this one is thicker and richer and mixed with honey.  When in Bhaktapur, just look for this sign in front of non-descript shops with chest freezers:

They’re traditionally made and served in clay pots.

Best to buy them from the king curd stores as they’re only NR 35 compared to NR 150 at restaurants. 

Sandwhiches

They’re cheap, filling, and delicious.  From Western sandwhiches to shawarmas to kati rolls.  

Bacon sandwhich at Sandwhich Point in Thamel

Vegetarian burger at Maya Resto and Bar at Pokhara

Finally, if you see these in a counter where you pay at a restaurant, do have some.  According to the cashier at a restaurant in Pokhara, they’re mouth deodorants!

TIPS

1.  It takes 20-30 minutes for food and even drink orders to arrive; more so if the place is quite packed.  So time your hunger pangs.  If in a group, the same orders would get faster delivery time than if you would have different orders each.

2.  Servings are plentiful.

3.  In Pokhara and Bhaktapur, 10% service charge plus 13% VAT are added to your bill.  In Thamel, most of the places I ate at seem to have it included it in the price.

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The Streets of Kathmandu

The old section of Kathmandu was all that I dreamed it to be— narrow cobbled streets, old houses and buildings, beautiful architecture, ancient temples, and the bustle of people going about their everyday life.  Never mind about the incessant taxi or rickshaw drivers offering rides to nearby sights, shop owners asking you to come “look inside,” and the traffic at Thamel Marga.  Walking the streets of old Kathmandu is a destination in itself.

Buddhist prayer flags hanging across Thamel Marga

A wooden mask adorns the window of a shop fronting Hanuman Dokha Square

One of the many “chaitya” (stupa) you will chance on at corners in old Kathmandu

Rickshaws parked in front of a temple

Blankets and table covers for sale

Many buildings have narrow terraces in front

A monk at a street corner

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A Little Morning Shopping in Kathmandu

Should have gone to Patan today but decided to just stay put in Kathmandu for my last two days here.  Gotta slow down a bit to get some rest as my vacation ends.  Slept quite well as my acidity didn’t keep me awake.  Must be the lassi.

While walking at Thamel, became envious at a Caucasian guy eating a sandwhich so I dropped by Sandwhich Point for a small bacon sandwhich (NR 150z). 

 Hefty fillings and warm bread made for a really enjoyable sandwhich.  

The bread was being delivered at the time I was there so I know that the breads are fresh or at least no more than a day old.

I headed to the chowk where Annapurna Temple is and somehow I took the wrong turn from the street where the Chinese hotel and the local gym was.  I still ended-up at the temple but via a more circuitious way that brought me to narrow streets littered with trash and through Asan Tole where local market is which was quite fortuitous as I was able to buy some packaged local snacks to bring back home. They were really cheap at just NR 120-130 per medium pack. Bought a pack of dahl too which hopefully I can cook properly back home.

Down the street on the right side of the temple to get some bronze plates and the bell my sister was asking for.  I was surprised that the plates were being sold by weight!  Bough three medium-sized light ones at NR 800 each.  The copper ones are a hundred cheaper but the brass ones are definitely more beautiful.  Would have brought brass drinking glasses too (NR 600) if I had much more money to spend on this stuff.

I like this street as it has nice local shops aside from the beautiful temes tucked between them.  The shop keepers aren’t pushy too.

Ended up at the Hanuman Dokha Durbar Square again, flashed my pass (so handy!) to the smiling ticket clerk and guard and headed straight for the toilet.

Returned to Thamel via the street on the other side of the square where there are many music shops.

Got some cool leather sandals (NR 1000) at this shoe and sandal shop where all the goods are from India or Pakistan.  Would have bought some more but they don’t.  Ladies would go crazy with the unique shoes and sandals here.  

What’s shopping without a good lunch to punctuate it?  Back to my favorite pit stop, Gilingche for crunchy vegetarian fried rice (best fried rice I’ve had in Nepal) and chili momo which was so hot, I ordered a lassi to soothe my mouth.

Back at the hotel to see how to pack in all the stuff considering I have not bought the drums yet.

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Guide to Bhaktapur

1.  Bhaktapur is easily accessible from Kathmandu via bus, taxi, or car hire. In my case, the private Nagarkot-Changu Narayan hike I booked at Mountain Trotters included a car that brought me to Nagarkot and picked me up at Changu Narayan from which it brought me to Bhaktapur.  Returning to Kathmandu a couple of days later, my hotel provided transport for NR 1000 to Thamel which is about the price taxis hanging around the entrance of the durbar square.

2.  Entrance fee is at NR 1500 for most foreigners.  If you will be visiting on multiple days whether on day trips or staying a couple of nights, ask them to extend the validity of your stay up to the end of your visa.  At the back of your entry ticket, they will write your passport number, country, entry date to Bhaktapur, and the number of days you need.  They didn’t ask for a passport picture.

3.  Do stay overnight.  I stayed two nights and it was one of the best decisions I made in my Nepal trip.  The place is magical early morning and after dusk once most of the tourists have gone.

 It’s a beautiful experience to just watch the locals heading to the temples and shrines for their religious rituals and hearing nothing but the sound of bells.  At the Pasupatinath Temple, a damaru drum sounds with the bells.

Plus you get to photograph Nyatapola Temple with less people.

It will be your chance to listen to bhajan singing at Taumadhi Tole (around 6pm) where I saw one.

4.  Book a room that can give you nice views of the square.  I stayed at Golden Gate Guesthouse.  

5.  After visiting the squares, head to the side streets and experience much more — crumbling buildings, hidden shrines, local life, etc.  

6.  There not too many good places to eat as prices are overprices and dishes uninspired.  

The cafes are much better.  If you want to dine with a top view, head to Temple View Restaurant at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Cafe Nyatapola and Nyatapola Restaurant at Taumadhi Square, Cafe de Peacock at Dattatreya Square, and Pottery Cafe at Pottery Square.  Other places such as Highland Beans Coffee (which is my favorite cafe) at Dattatreya Square offer ground floor views.

7.  There are a few atm machines and money changers but I found them to be little lower than in Thamel.

8.  Get dolls, puppets, thanka paintings, and pottery at Bhaktapur as these are where they’re made.  The small lane from Durbar Square to Pottery Square is lined with stalls. The rest of the stuff can be found at Thamel and are much cheaper.  Oh, ceramic magnets in Bhaktapur are at NR 200 compared to NR 250 in Thamel.

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Back in Kathmandu

Returned to Kathmandu afternoon via the hotel shuttle (NR 1000) from Bakhtapur driven by the most reckless and laziest driver in Kathmandu who dropped me off a few blocks before Thamel.

Picked- up my laundry on the way to Avalon House which by now, has become a very welcoming place for me.  Actually, feels like coming home especially with the wide smile from the elderly security guard greeting me (gotta give him a good tip when I check-out for good) each time I arrive.  I got the same room (104) at the first floor.  

Just got settled a bit and then went off to Mandalay Book Point a block away from the Garden of Dreams.

Its reputation as the most well-stocked academic bookstore is well-deserved.  The store is crammed full with sgelves overflowing with books with titles in the humanities, social sciences, history,  religion, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and fiction.  Most of the  books are arranged topically.  I didn’t see any shelf marked “music” the shop keeper pulled out some books somewhere.  Spent about NR 5500 for 5 books, three  of which are ethnomusicological books on Newari music and musicians.  Jackpot!  Have chrcked out the bookshops at Thamel and none handed yielded any books on Nepali music.  Mpst have guide books, maps, and books on Buddhism and yoga.  

Had dinner at the ever reliable and ever delicious Gilingche Restaurant.  Tried the sizzling buff momo, a Westernized take on the dumplings which was topped with mushroom gravy and came with a siding of vegetables and fries all served on a hot iron plate.  It’s a good way to have momo differently from the usual steamed, panfried, or deep fried.  Downed a glass of lassi to help keep my acidity at bay which had been troubling me since the hike last New Year’ Day where I skipped lunch.

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The Streets of Bhaktapur

Being in the heritage area of Bhaktapur is like being in a time warp.  Brick-tiled streets, shop houses, old men chatting at rest places called phalcha, ancient temples, people making offerings,  bhajan singing outside temples, and many more.

Head to side streets, slip through passageways, enter courtyards, and it’s as if you’re in a different world.  Bhakatapur is truly magical.

One of the two lions standing guard at a platform at the durbar square

 

“Bhajan” singing at Taumadhi Tole in the evening

Nyatapola Temple

Taumadhi Tole in early morning

A “phalcha,” traditional Nepalese resting place

Pottery Square

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Good Morning, Bhaktapur

I wake-up past 5:30 in the morning to the sound of bells clanging.  I’m certainly going to miss this when I return to Kathmandu much more when I get back home to Manila. Bhaktapur is a lovely town to spend a few days in.  If only I did not have to tick-off some items in my shopping list, I would just have stayed here.  On the other hand, the craziness of Thamel will help transition me to the craziness of Bangkok before flying back home. 

It’s about 2 degrees and freezing.  I think I’m turning into a bowl of ice-cream.  Nevertheless, I take a stroll to Tamaudhi Toll for better pictures of the Nyatapola and Bhaighamari temples. The square is busy with vegetable vendors and people on their daily religious rituals.

I muster the courage to drop by one of two stalls  on a side street for an egg roll and two ring-shaped fried bread which I point out.  Cheap at NR 40 and comes wrapped in a newspaper.  Hahaha!

Down the road to Dattatreya Square.  The shops haven’t opened yet but the road is alive with a few vendors setting up their wares, army recruits jogging, and people heading to wherever their feet takes them this morning.  Dattatreya is busier as the two  temples are teeming with worshippers.  The bells are busy clanging.

The goats are their usual selves basking under the cold sunshine. This ram, on the other hand, is busy eating some grains thrown by worshippers.

Vendors spread out goods for offerings in the temples sometimes chasing away one of the goats who are attracted to the flowers.

 

I revisit some of the sites that fascinated me yesterday such as the peacock window.  With no pedestrians or pesky touts from the wood carving and thanka shops, I get a better view and picture of the window.  I also discover other windows with smaller peacocks.  

I head to Highland Beans Coffee and Travellers Cafe for some omelette, grilled cherry tomatoes, sliced fruits, toast, and cup of black tea; what the menu calls a “simple breakfast” and watch Bhaktapur go by.

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