Customised trip in Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara - Feb 20 - Feb 27, 2020
Amanda planned for my travel companion and I a 8-days, 7-nights trip to Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara. It was both of our first trip to Nepal and I must say it was an eye-opening experience!
Here's what I liked and did not like about the trip:
- The planning was generally good and made sense. We arrived on late night of 20 February right before the Maha Shivatri festival on 21 February. Instead of planning for us to visit Pasupatinath temple that day (which would have been exploding with millions of worshipers and impossible to get in), Amanda and team planned it on the following day, 22 February, when we still got to experience remnants of the festivities and the crowd, but still be able to get around the temple
- Being flexible in terms of our asks and requirements, e.g.: planning two separate hikes for us when we stated that we wanted to experience a bit of hiking during our trip, and planning a really enjoyable white-water rafting session for us even though we were not in the season for white-water rafting yet. (The rest of the crew had to be made up by other members of the rafting team, but we were good to go with two pax).
- Special mention goes to Ritesh from the Operations team, who has been extremely responsive throughout the trip and helping us whenever things did not go as planned. Due to weather conditions, our Everest scenic flight was cancelled twice, our hot air balloon and helicopter flight to Annapurna base camp were also all cancelled, and he was very diligent and fast in helping us liaise with the respective provider companies, and in helping us get our refunds. The trip would have been quite dreary if not for his help, with so many things being cancelled! So I must really thank him for being there (via text) for us
- Keshab as a guide for Pokhara - He is really young but he made up for it by his boundless energy. He doubled up as both a tour guide and as our trekking guide up the World Peace Pagoda, and was really helpful to us especially throughout our hikes, helping to carry not just one but both our bags as we made the journey up the steps. He also told us interesting stories of the attractions we were in, and made jokes and riddles along the way to liven up the atmosphere, and make sure both of us were well taken care of
- The guesthouses that were booked were really charming and full of the flavours of local Nepali architecture. I especially liked Milla Guesthouse in Bhaktapur and Thamel Villa in Kathmandu. The former felt really cozy with a lady owner who was so friendly and accommodating, and specially prepared our breakfast (baked our bread and made jam for us) late into the night! Whereas the latter was a bit more European in its architecture / chandeliers, but still really charming, and it tied up with a restaurant across the road for breakfast that was really delicious.
The (slight) negatives
- Amanda, while being fairly responsive, regrettably had a slightly different communication style from me. The itinerary she planned was a little high level and vague, and I realised I needed to be very specific when communicating with her, if not her responses may still not really answer the crux of the question. Also, there were some errors in what she communicated with us vis-a-vis what eventually panned out: E.g.: there was no heater in our hotel in Patan - Swotha Traditional Homes, even though she sounded pretty sure there were heaters in all our hotels; Or that after whitewater rafting, as we were enroute from Kathmandu to Pokhara, there were no shower facilities and only a small room for changing (we were of the impression from her there were shower facilities). I had also requested for her to try to put some of the information that she mentioned in our fairly long interactions on KimKim into the final itinerary, e.g.: estimated start and end time every day, emergency contacts, etc. But that was eventually not added into our itinerary and only passed to us on a handwritten paper that could have been easily misplaced on the 2nd day. Again, I acknowledge most of my frustrations could be attributed to a difference in communication styles, but at the amount we were paying: ~USD1.8K per pax for 8 days of mostly 3-star guesthouse accommodation, I believe I was justified to expect a little more
- Our guide in Kathmandu Valley, Pratikshya. She was very comprehensive, fluent in English and detailed in her explanations to us, which I agree with some of the other reviews written here. However, I felt there was still a little room for improvement. Throughout the few days in Kathmandu valley when we visited the various UNESCO world heritage sites, other than Pashupatinath temple, I felt she was a little bit rushed, and I did not have enough time to fully explore the various places or imbibe in the local culture and vibe. This was especially the case in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, which was really pretty. We just briefly walked into the palace for a very short while (and wasn't sure if there were any other buildings in the square to explore), and then continued on our walk to the hotel. Granted, she did give us our Durbar Square tickets so that we could come back if we wanted to. But in the case of some of the venues, like Bhaktapur, it was a very long walk from our hotel and very difficult for two females to come back all the way in the dark. Also, we were travelling in a very small group of two. However, most of the time, she was walking ahead with my other travel companion and explaining to her, leaving me trailing behind and not knowing what is happening. I think the trip would have been more enjoyable if she made a bit more effort to involve both of us (given it is such a small group). Last but not least, on our hike up to Namobuddha, we were given the choice of two places to eat for lunch - the Namobuddha resort that served farm-to-table organic vegetarian meals, and the monastery restaurant. The former needed to be booked half an hour before we arrived. She briefly mentioned the choices the night before and I opted to decide on the day itself. She asked us for our choice again midway through our hike. However, as the information was incomplete / erroneous and my travel companion was extremely strong-minded, I was compelled to make a decision I did not want at a time I was feeling very exhausted - Pratikshya told us that the resort only had a fixed vegetarian menu every day (without telling us what is the menu that day) whereas the monastery restaurant had an ala carte menu where we can order whatever we want. Also, we could drink beer in the monastery restaurant but not at the resort (something I wanted to do to celebrate our achievement of completing the hike). The impression I got was that the resort was more touristy whereas the monastery restaurant was more authentic. But when we finally made the hike up I realised it was anything but! The monastery restaurant had only a menu handwritten on the board of 7 dishes (most of them included things I could find in my local country like Fried Rice and Fried Noodles), was full of tourists, and last but most importantly, could not serve beer because it was a restaurant owned by the monastery. I had to go the the restaurant opposite if I wanted beer. I felt a little cheated because I might have enjoyed it a little better if I went to the Namobuddha Resort and tried food that was actually grown locally. But there was no more time to try or change my decision after the hike, as we could not afford a slightly longer lunch and had to drive down to Bhaktapur, for which she rushed through anyway.
- Kimkim's payment policy: We were a little uncomfortable having to pay 100% of our trip costs even before the trip commenced, and were worried that Himalayan Trails would not be incentivised to put in good service as a result. Thankfully it turned out OK, but it would be good if kimkim can review its payment policy to leave some percentage (perhaps 10% or so) to be paid at the end of the trip.