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Friday, March 23, 2012

CHITWAN

CHITWAN

One of the reasons I traveled to Chitwan (pronounced 'chit-tone' which makes no damned sense) was to check into the elephant rides.

When I was in Kathmandu, I went and priced them out because I wanted to show the differences. One place - which included a bunch of boat crap I didn't care about - $110. Another place for one night out, $65. For an hour on the 'government run elephant' thing, about $12.

The problem with pricing things out even at the source with things like 'jungle treks' and such is that you can't be sure what you're actually going to get. If you just go for the cheapest price the quality will probably - but not always - not be good. But going the other way is absolutely no guarantee that you will get any sort of quality at all. I suppose that is one reason to read travelogues like this one. The problem is finding the information. There are a lot of travel blogs and such out there and some have good information hidden within them. In the case of "Logan's Voyage", well hidden.

But, chances are that even if you do all the research you can it will still be a crap shoot. Bad for people on limited time or limited budget.

One of the fixed prices in Chitwan is the national price entry. It is 500 NRS per day, fixed. Like really.



ARRIVAL IN CHITWAN

As soon as you get off the bus - touts. I said 'internet wifi in room and hot water'. They agreed - but remember they will agree to pretty much everything. Even if they can't understand it. They also agreed to 500 NRS. Sadly, I have selective memory loss about such things and a British woman I met (who was shanghaied into the same jeep) bargained and our rooms are now 250 NRS each. Her name is Tracy.

We are currently staying at "Hotel Butterfly" (Logan is a beautiful, beautiful butterfly!) and it is so so. I can't bitch much with 250 NRS. The place next door is - without bargaining - 250 NRS and looks like it's pretty much the same thing. I will test out their wifi a bit later.

Note that I went by and it was pretty much the same deal as the Butterfly - except the owner seemed nicer and the internet wasn't hooked up to the battery backup. I don't think it would have mattered - didn't end up spending a lot of time at the grotty room anyway.

Tracy was there to do all of the usual tourist stuff. She is an experienced world traveler and knew exactly what she wanted to do. She went out and priced all of the stuff with a bunch of different travel sellers in the area to find out the best prices. For a day completely packed with activities, it ended up being about 2500 NRS. I estimate that's ten to fifteen percent of what other tourists were paying. Yes, I got lazy and said "I'll have what she's having." I figured it would kill three birds with one stone. I got to hang out with Tracy a bit, experience some new stuff (see loads of pictures and videos) and do some research in preparation for Matt.

Negotiating price does have a downside but honestly, you can get bad stuff even if you are paying top dollar. When you negotiate the price down, the tour booker or operator has to cut certain corners to try to maximize their profits. Or just soak you for more money. In our case, this meant spending less time doing everything. Instead of an hour canoe ride, it was approximately half that. Instead of half an hour at the elephant breeding center it was ten minutes. Tracy was livid. Personally, I didn't care. I was happy to just sample the stuff.

I've discovered that if someone else is in control of what I'm doing I get bored more quickly. For example, if I am being rowed in a canoe, short is great. After an hour I'd probably start rocking the damned thing. But if I'm doing stuff - like the four wheeled ATV's in Cappadocia, I'm going to freak out if I don't get my full time worth. Sadly, it is the same with pretty much all exhibits. Unless the subject is one that I am interested in a lot (medieval weaponry and so on) I would breeze through even a famous place at a quick walk. While some people would stop and gate adoringly at a painting like the Mona Lisa for a half hour, I'm thinking that I'd look at it closely for under a minute snap a picture of it or me in front of it if I am able) and be off again. Now, if they had finger paints where you could try to make your own Mona Lisa, I might be there for a long time. Just one of the idiosyncratic quirks I've discovered about Logan. There are others.

For me, the 'jeep safari' was entirely too long and dull as hell. After a half an hour of being jostled around on the crappy road, I got bored. After an hour I started nodding off. After a couple hours I started to slip into my 'traveler's funk'. I had taken the front seat of the vehicle for three reasons. First, everyone else was in pairs and nobody seemed to want to leave their partner. Second, I didn't think my crappy back would survive bouncing around clutching a role bar in the back of a pickup truck over roads made entirely of potholes and large rocks for four plus hours. Third, the guide with us gave me the nod. So I took it.

The animals we spotted - a couple of birds. Hell, it could have been some rare nearly extinct bird for all I knew - or cared. When I saw them, I just said 'bird'. There were a couple of spotted deer. I've seen deer before and didn't care. These had spots. Still didn't care. Can't eat them. There were two distant shapes I was told were the rare one horned rhino. If I have to be told where and what something is I can't see it and again don't care. There was a boar. Whoopie - a big pig. Bore.

I actually had a better time talking to some of the Nepal soldiers they have guarding the national park. There are a lot of them doing that. Idiot tourists take pictures of these soldiers which will get you in trouble. I didn't. I did get to 'talk some shop' with a couple of them about their rifles which were a newer generation of the M-16 than I got to use. That was nice. The fact that they went from scowling to laughing and happy when we were talking I mark as a victory.

The soldier's job is to protect the wild critters from poachers.

For gun buffs, I believe they were trying to tell me they are using the A4 and like it. The A1 was a POS.

Concerning the elephant riding, other tourists I spoke with didn't seem thrilled by it at all. It was uncomfortable and dull to them. It would be for me if I was just sitting on the elephant as opposed to steering it. The way they steer it (kicking it on the ear canals) does seem a bit cruel to me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't be cruel but I can't be bothered. There are enough people to be cruel to without picking on something that much bigger than I am.

The rooms (Butterfly GH) we were staying in had the upside of being very cheap (250 NRS) but a lot of downsides. The mosquito netting was ripped up. Odd smells. Full of mosquitoes. The solar powered water wasn't on one of the two showers I took - and I despise cold showers. The room was dirty, dingy and the lights sometimes didn't work. The owner bitched and grumbled that we weren't booking anything through him and had kittens when I tried to get a receipt from him. Yes, I got the receipt.

Part of the motivation of getting out of that town was getting out of that hotel. If you took all of the tourist buildings out of the town, I'm not sure what would be left.



ESCAPE FROM CHITWAN

Through the same agent as Tracy, I booked a bus ticket to Pokhara, 400 NRS. The bus was an ugly pink short bus that got filled with tourists - baggage on top.

It turned out that I didn't really buy a bus ticket. It was a booking. I tried arguing with the ticket master about it but didn't get anywhere. Fortunately, I had kept the card of the place I bought the ticket. I figured it was just a scam to get another 400 NRS. It turned out that the guy who sold them has to show up every day and do some dealing with the ticket master to get the actual ticket. Fortunately, he did indeed show up and everything was sorted out.

My assigned seat sitting next to a lady who thoughtfully moved my bag and sat in it. She didn't seem happy when I pointed it out. It also transpired that we were both 'festively plump'. Two fat people do not jell well in narrow bus seats.

She was very happy when I asked about moving up front and was granted the boon. Karma came and bit her in the ass when the bus kept stopping to take on more people and someone else got to sit next to her. Most buses do that - it is their extra money. Heck, I don't know how much of that the bus company sees.



NEPAL FOOD

Sckuti - really tough, chewy meat. Apparently, Nepal people like this sort of thing.



NEPAL CUSTOMS

A lot of people in Nepal wear face masks - like they wear in operation rooms. In the far east, it was the custom to wear one when you had a cold so you would not give your germs to others. Here, it is a dust mask.


On menus, a lot of 'buff' is referred to. I found out this means 'buffalo'.



RESTAURANT REVIEW - COZY CAFE AND RESTAURANT

Although it wasn't written in the menu I got, it was in pen on a different menu. I hate it when they try to stick you with an extra fifth hidden cost because of the VAT. Do I believe the VAT actually goes to the government? Perhaps from the big places.

When the owner announced this, I became very upset and would have just left but I had already gotten a cup of coffee. I decided to negotiate and asked for him to bring me a 200 NRS breakfast including VAT and such. He did and hey, he had been trained internationally and knew how to do eggs over easy.



NEPAL BEERS

'Gatcha Beer' - pretty good. I'd rate it the new number two in my growing list of beers. As with all other Nepal beer, it is unreasonably expensive.



MATT PLANNING

My initial thought was 'see Mount Everest, mild white water rafting, jungle safari on top of an elephant.

Mount Everest got shot down almost immediately. To get to that neck of the woods, you either have to go via expensive (for foreigners) airplane for $150-$175 round trip (who the fuck would go one way?) or creep through 'Mao infested roads' that are reputed to be pretty dangerous. Not much for either option. In addition, I found that if you want to go overland there, you have to go to a town called Jiri where you get your backpacks searched. Maybe they don't want you smuggling in extra oxygen tanks. Apparently, it's under Maoist control. I don't know what that means but people say it in a negative way. I don't need a picture of Mt. Everest that damned bad.

The place I'm in now, Chitwon, does indeed have jungles and elephants. I will check it out to see if it is at all cool or if Matt will just dry hump the elephant for a minute and then get bored with it.



KATHMANDU PLACES TO STAY

These are my picks in order of preference.

Lhasa Guest House

Upside: Internet wired to battery backup so you can continue with internet even during the frequent power outages. Owner very cool - fluent English.

Downside: Very short staffed. You get to play 'find the owner' when you need him. Also, rooms are pretty booked. Be sure to get one in the back away from the noisy street.


Chill Out Resort

Upside: Very helpful staff. They even assigned me a guy to take me to the bus station as I was leaving.

Downside: Room I was in had no exterior windows, internet not yet wired to the battery backup.



Imperial Guest House

Upside: Price, wifi, hot shower.

Downside: I know nothing else beyond this.



RANDOM ENCOUNTER

A wandering street vendor was trying to sell me 'Tiger Balm'. It is a 'cure all' - in the old days style of cure all. I had no use for it so started explaining I had no tiger. The guy started laughing and tried to explain it to me. I interrupted saying that if I had a tiger I hoped he would not be sick and need balm. Who would apply it to a sick and probably angry tiger anyway? He went off laughing.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

I am compulsive about showing up very early for travel. Stuff happens. You get told what you have isn't a real ticket - things like that. Show up and wait around. Double the time or more for international crossings.



TRAVELER'S LORE

The Hungarian couple also told me that in some places in the world, the actual value of the bill is based on the percentage of the bill remaining. Logical, though tedious. Hence, if you had a $100 bill with a corner missing, it may only be worth $96 at a bank. For Americans, this is really odd. You can take 51% of a bill to a bank and presto, get a new one. Any government that can't afford to print new money needs to talk to me. So long as I can run off some extra copies (just a few mind you) for myself, I can make the project pay for itself!


More information and reports on Burma. Note, some of this may be a repeat of previously given information. The editor will sort that out.

No tourist infrastructure.
No ATM's. You have to bring whatever money you think you will use with you. They only accept crisp 'like new' 100 USD bills. Note, you can go to luxury (expensive) hotels and pay big money to use your card and such - but it will cost you plenty - eight percent.
Prices are amazingly high for what seems to be an undeveloped dung hole. $15/night rooms that you feel lucky to have found because everything gets booked up.
The numbers of tourists have increased by sixty percent in the last year and the infrastructure has not increased at all.
No wifi. $5/hour internet, takes 'an hour' to send one e-mail - very slow.
Not very safe.
One traveler reportedly blew through $800 in 17 days.
Excluding flights and visas, Tracy (lady I was discussing Burma with) blew through $300 per week by barely eating.
Whether you travel by bus or horse and cart it costs $15. That is triple the local cost due to them having to accept liability for foreigners. Note that if a tourist manages to injure themselves, the local goes to jail.
The food sucks.

That's on the one hand. The reasons to go include things like incredible scenery, pagodas and extraordinary people. Lots of people there - even in the 'tourist areas' have never seen a foreigner before.



COSTS

Bus stop lunch, 150 NRP

Bus stop bottle of soda, negotiated down to 30 NRP. Note that he was going to 'forget' my change so I pointed this out with a friendly, "Bitch!" That got me my change. I also bought one for the 'bus yeller', some young kid who wasn't asking for anything and was dressed rather shabbily.


Some un-negotiated Chitwan costs. All prices are per person and for anything you need the 500 NRS permit but only one permit per day.

1 hour canoe ride, 1050 NRS
Government elephant ride, 1000 NRS; leaves at either 8 AM or 4 PM.
Jeep ride, 1100 NRS. They claim it will last four hours - it really does as you are on a set track. Very bumpy.
Stick dance, 60 NRS. We were going to go to this but other tourists said it was horribly cheesy and not interesting so we skipped it.
Pokhara bus ticket, 550 NRS (negotiated down to 400 NRS)
Horse cart to elephant breeding center, 300 NRS. (Don't take a horse cart here - you can do it in the manner we did without renting separate transport).
Elephant breeding center, 50 NRS. To me this was not interesting but others may like it.

A lot of people were slapping down hundreds of dollars for package things - lodging, food, activities and all of that. You can get it at a small fraction of the cost if you have time and inclination to just show up and hunt for it.

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

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