Many thanks for organising what turned out to be a wonderful trip. Some feedback for you:
1. Both the Guide - Norgay, and the Driver - Gopal, were very good indeed. The driver especially. we were subject to another driver the day that we went to Lake Tshongo and it made us appreciate Gopal's driving even more. Indeed we saw the recent results of two nasty accidents of vehicles going over the edge - which involved loss of life. Safety is a serious concern, and Gopal drove very well. Norgay's knowledge and enthusiasm about Tibetan Buddhism could not be faulted, we were really lucky to witness both chanting and debating.
2. They were both very helpful and polite and willing to make small changes to the itinerary - we went on the Ropeway in Darjeeling which was very good (should be included on the itinerary) and they took us to a soccer match in Gangtok which was a bonus. They also accommodated our desire to do rather more walking than may have been planned. I would have no hesitation to recommend them as a team to other travellers.
3. The hotels were also really good, with a special mention for the Himalayan in Kalimpong, a really good place. All provided heating and hot-water bottles except in Pelling - I wonder how they manage in Winter?
4. We ate mainly away from the hotels - except breakfast. The breakfasts were fine. The pakshabhat, as recommended by Norgay, was especially good.
5. On the first morning in Kolkata we arranged (with some help from the O2 Hotel staff) a yellow taxi to take us into the centre of town and visit the river and to see many of the sights in the centre (2,000 rupees for 5 hours). This proved to be quite a highlight of the trip, despite the driver having almost no English he did an excellent job, including finding a breakfast place for us. There was no problem getting back to the airport in time for the flight.
6. Nothing quite prepared us for the traffic in Darjeeling, it must be an absolute nightmare in the peak season. Sadly Tiger Hill was a complete flop - totally covered in cloud, but a couple of days later we were blessed with a spectacular view of the mountains. The Toy Train was marvellous
7. Gangtok is oversold in the guidebooks, they have at least built some pavements and pedestrian walkways and the car-free shopping mall, but the traffic is still terrible and it can hardly be called either "small" or "sleepy".
8. On the way back we once again went into central Kolkata to visit the Kalikhat Temple - this time by bus because all the yellow taxis were on strike. Just finding the Temple was quite a challenge, eventually with the help of a kindly policeman, we got an auto-rickshaw to take us most of the way. It proved to be quite a marvellous adventure, because we could not get a white taxi either and ended up walking for miles and miles until we found the Taj Bengal Hotel and bullied them into providing us with a hotel car. Why have they built an elevated railway right to Kolkata Airport and yet if doesn't have any trains?
9. In retrospect we should have asked to spend one more day in Pelling and done a full-day hike into the mountains to break up the travelling. Otherwise the whole expedition was both eye-opening and highly enjoyable.
The Nepalese-style hotel (Kantipur Temple House) in Kathmandu is wonderfully located. The staff are friendly, the rooms large (although without some amenities - like shampoo or a hair dryer), and the restaurant excellent. I had three excellent dinners on all three evenings. The beds are quite hard, but I much prefer that to soft mattresses!
The lakeside at Pokhara seems much more geared towards tourists. The hotel (Hotel Barahi) was more like a western-style hotel and was very good; the staff especially were most helpful.
I was met at both airports, and again at the hotel in Kathmandu for the airport transfer en route to Pokhara. However, after being left on arrival at the Pohkara hotel, I was given no information about my departure, nor any contact person. The hotel even thought I was departing at noon on the 20th (my flight was at 09:10). No-one seemed to know what was happening! Eventually one of the receptionists told me not to worry (but without being specific). To be safe, I decided to pay for a car and driver for an hour’s trip to the valley and then be dropped at the airport.
Recommendation: a printed schedule with a summary of transfer activity and contact persons in each city would have been helpful.
Both TG flights were excellent and I was very grateful to have a window seat allocated, even on an economy ticket. However, if it is possible actually to request a seat, the ideal seats to Kathmandu are ‘K’ and the ideal seats out of Kathmandu are ‘A’ (rather than ‘A’ and ‘K’). This is because the Himalaya range is on the right as you fly in and the left as you fly out!
Kathmandu’s domestic airport is a ghastly chaos – the worst I have ever experienced. Once through security, there are no TV monitors, no signs about departures, only intermittent PA announcements – only for Nepal Airlines. Departures of all other flights are shouted by individuals near the boarding gate. What surprised me most about the 3-hour delay was not knowing about it prior to my leaving the hotel. In front of me at the Buddha Air check-in was a group of young Japanese, also going to Pokhara. After I checked in, I followed them into the departure lounge. Chatting with one, he told me their flight had also been delayed, but their guide had held them at their hotel for 90 minutes. So they were able to get their flight quite quickly. Prashant told me he had checked about delays and had been told they were on time. With all respect, I do find this a little hard to believe as all Buddha Air flights that day were considerably delayed. But I fully accept that obtaining information about flights seems to be well night impossible!
Recommendation: since all domestic flights fly by visual flight rules and so are totally dependent on the weather, I suggest your clients be advised to fly out of Kathmandu in the morning (so as to avoid a flight being cancelled – as mine nearly was – if it might have to land after dark). Alternatively, do the relatively short trip to Pokhara by car. (I realise this is what your agent had suggested and that it was I who insisted on going by air!). And since my return flight was also delayed by 2 hours, I suggest clients are strongly advised not to do what I insisted and return on the day of a connecting international flight. Far better to return the previous morning and overnight in Kathmandu.
Having been there before, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see. For first time visitors, I suggest the Nepal agent should give them a printed list of possibilities, along with the price if his agency is used. I found his prices (e.g. for car hire) to be very reasonable compared to taxis. Kathmandu, especially, can be quite intimidating on a first visit. Electricity
I also think it’s worth pointing out to potential visitors that Kathmandu has power cuts of around 3 hours every evening. Some hotels have generators; others do not. It also makes walking around at night rather difficult!
Overall our time in Thailand was very good, thanks to your working with us. The Tamarind in Chiang Mai was a wonderful oasis in the middle of a town we enjoyed. The staff could not have been more helpful or friendly; the room was excellent as was the restaurant. Our guide took us to many interesting places with more on his list that we did not have time for. The Temple was amazing to see as it was our first in Thailand. The one slight negative was that he took us to a hill tribe that was difficult to take – very dirty and the children were very aggressive selling their wares. I did not want to see more but he then took us to the government sponsored village where we could see how they make their crafts and enjoyed that. It was a pleasure to purchase some items as they were not aggressive.
Our guide also recommended a local Thai massage and it was so very good: 2 hours for $25 and a very thorough, deep massage. They even took us back to our hotel. We took a tuktuk to the night market and enjoyed that. Please recommend the Tamarind to all your clients.
Bangkok was different: big city with all the good and bad of a big city. Our guide Mickey set things up for us: we would recommend the long boat ride through the canals to see how people on the river live-excellent tour. We had to cancel the Rice Barge Dinner Cruise as I was having an unsettled stomach and eating on a boat would not have worked. I was disappointed as the city at night must be beautiful.
The City tour was a busy and full day and gave us the highlights of Bangkok. Both dinner shows, one in Chiang Mai, were excellent with delicious food and entertainment. Thank you for booking these. The Dusit Thai was a beautiful city hotel with very good service. I would recommend it to anyone.
The hotel for our last day was a perfect choice: we walked to a local restaurant, went back to the room for a rest and shower to leave for the airport at 11 PM. Mickey was on top of things as the military was moving men and tanks into Bangkok that day and she told us to get to the airport as soon as possible as the roads may be closed later. She sent a car in 30 minutes and we were at the airport before 7 PM. We appreciated her help.
Yes, I would recommend Connecting Asia to anyone touring Thailand. You were patient with my requests and it was a good trip. If I go to Asia again I will contact you.
Bhutan is the most beautiful country I have visited! The towering mountains, traditional Bhutanese architecture and dress, crisp mountain air, and simplicity of life are awe-inspiring and unforgettable.
Overall, we were very pleased with Connecting Asia's professionalism, the local tour guide, and the activities that were arranged for us.
There are two recommendations that we would make for future reference. The first is to advise travellers that a) it will be difficult to withdraw money in Bhutan and b) the Thai Baht - Bhutan Ngultrum exchange rate in Bhutan is one to one, which is not very favorable. For these reasons, it is better to exchange some money before travelling or to carry a strong currency such as US dollars or Euros. Second, the Namsay Hotel in Paro was disappointing - the rooms were dark, the carpeting was old and dusty, and the food was not very good. We would suggest selecting an alternate hotel in Paro.
Overall, it was a very well organized and highly enjoyable and memorable vacation!
Faris Khader & Pawarin Chanaphokin Traveled to Bhutan in April 2009