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Bangkok-Cambodia-India (Calcutta-Bodhgaya-Varanasi) Nepal-India (Sikkim-Darjeeling-Bodhgaya-Varanasi-Bombay)
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Email from USA Apr 16, 1999

Colombo
I had that 2 day stopover package in Colombo, they put one up in a mediocre hotel called The Goodwood which isn't even in Colombo itself, the one free day I had there I took a local bus into Colombo & then got stuck with an exorbitant price for going around to various sites by autorickshaw for 5 hrs. Checked out the Museum, some temples, etc. There were some interesting sites but none of my photos turned out as I was using a roll of film I'd bought very cheaply in India which turned out to be bogus, a used cannister with some film scotch taped to the inside, kind of a final farewell gift from India...

Returning to Thailand I went to check out the temple ruins of the ancient Thai capitals of Ayuttaya & Sukothai, can't remember now the names of the guesthouses I stayed in in those towns, but decent cheap ones are easy to find there.

I flew to Taiwan for a week, returned to Thailand again & spent a week in ChiangMai before returning to the USA for 2 months.
Now I've returned to Asia once again where for the last week I've been in Chiang Mai enjoying the riotous & bacchanalian Songkran festival. I've noticed that you've posted some pictures of the festival on your site...


Email from Bombay? Jan 12, 1998

A basic update from where I left off -
on the way to Sikkim:
All along the breathtaking mountain road to Sikkim are numerous signs - mostly slogans about driving carefully, such as "arrive home in peace, not in pieces", and "better be late than 'the late' ", and "if you drive like hell others will have a story to tell"! Interspersed with these occasionally there were other random sayings and quotes such as Shakespeare's "Nothing's good or bad but thinking makes it so."
Gangtok - accommodation
I stayed at Modern Central Lodge - 40 Rs. for dormitory accommodation.
Sights: The Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology had some good statues and interesting pieces in their collection, including a small statue of the previous king (Sikkim was it's own country until annexed by India in 1975) Tashi Namgyal, decked in military regalia & medals, wearing sunglasses, and holding a volume of scripture in one hand, and flanked by a pair of royal guards bearing rifles, and emblems of the traditional symbols of auspiciousness...
Pelling info
Next i went by jeep again a few hours journey West to Pelling, which is a short walk from Pemayangtse monastery - which features an amazing multitiered wooden carving of the celestial mansion and paradise of Padmasambhava (the Lotus Born guru, also known as Guru Rinpoche - precious guru, the legendary figure who established Buddhism in Tibet & throughout the Himalayan region in the 8th century). This extraordinary sculpture was the inspired visionary work of a late lama of Pemayangtse. As you approach Pemayangtse you'll be greeted by a sign posted on a tree with an image of a fearsome Garuda clutching a snake in it's beak & talons, the sign informs visitors that using or even carrying tobacco products is strictly forbidden when entering the grounds of the monastery. I hope that all visitors will respect this injunction.
Accommodation: In Pelling I stayed at Garuda Hotel for 120 Rs.

Transport to Darjeeling: The next day I continued on to Darjeeling (bus to Jorethang, jeep connection to Darjeeling)
Accommodation: I stayed for a few days in Darjeeling, in an annex of the Tower View Hotel, my room was 80 Rs. In the Tower View Hotel's restaurant I tried their 'chocolate pudding with fire' - lonely planet mentions it but they don't tell you what it is - it's pudding with some brandy poured on that the children then eagerly ignite with a candle flame.
Transport to Bodh Gaya: From Darjeeling I went by bus all the way back to Bodh Gaya (first a few hours bus to Siliguri, then another bus from there which was supposed to be 17 hrs. but ended up taking 23 hrs.) to attend the 5 day teaching with H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Accommodation in Bodh Gaya: This time I stayed in a simple guest house with no name in the real Indian village part of the town (the village is called Parchatti or something like that) the sights that greet you in the morning if you stay in such a village are like the real traditional village life you may have imagined (or seen in the film Bandit Queen, which took place in this region, Bihar)
Transport to Varanasi: Next I went by train to Varanasi.
Accommodation: Arriving in Varanasi I just wanted to find someplace near the train station - I settled on Hotel Buddha. At 225 Rs. it was, at that point, the most I'd paid for a room in India - but for this I got an enormous room with hot shower, CNN, etc.
Transport to Bombay: After several days in Varanasi I took a 27 hour train journey to Bombay.
Accommodation: Bombay has the most expensive accomodations in India, the only reasonable budget option in town is the Salvation Army hotel (not nearly as bad as it sounds). However, my first day in town the Salvation Army was full & I had to pay 500 Rs. for a basic room elsewhere.(in this case it really was full - there was a big group in from Nepal, but often times touts with commissions from other hotels will actually wait right in front of the Salvation Army, tell approaching visitors it's full when it really isn't, & direct them to another hotel!) So the next day I was able to check in to the Salvation Army - dormitory accomodation costs 100 Rs. and includes breakfast, overall it's an OK place & I met many interesting people from all over the world there.

Restaurants: The food in Bombay is by far the best that I'd experienced in India. There are many good restaurants all over and, aside from a few touristy establishments recommended by l.p., they're no more expensive than other places in India, though the quality is infinitely superior. Try local specialties such as bhel puri, and also many delicious milkshakes made with exotic fruits such as 'chikku' & 'sitafal'. Another thing is Ginger Lemon, in the colder climates of India & Nepal this is served hot, as a tea, but here in the South it's served as a cold drink and is very refreshing.
Flight from India: After spending New Year's in Bombay (has the potential to be fun) I decided it was time to leave India & rather than even making my way back to Calcutta to get a cheaper flight, I got a flight from Bombay to Bangkok (for $300, it was 12,000-something Rupees) on Air Lanka, which included a stopover in Colombo, Sri Lanka with 2 nights accomodation & meals in Colombo included...
to be continued...



Email from Gantok, India, Dec.12, 1998

Nepal: Kathmandu
I was here on a brief visit of less than a week, primarily to visit all my friends from when I was there before. Nevertheless, I do have a few informations about Kathmandu which may be helpful to other travellers:
Travel Info: Narghila Restaraunt in Thamel, which features Israeli food, has a traveller's comment book in which I found some potentially useful advice about other destinations I'd like to visit in future, as well as a hilarious parody of a typical 'lonely planet' book - rendered by someone who obviously shares my antipathy for that brand of travelguide.
Internet Cafe: Also discovered probably the best place for internet in KTM - EasyLink Cyber Cafe - take the first or second right turn when entering Thamel...
Restaurants - 'Love Hotel style' with signs that say 'Cabin System' are the closest Nepali equivalent to the Japanese 'Love Hotel'.In such places young couples can enjoy the privacy of a curtained cubicle. The waiters will only come when summoned by buzzer. Of course the prices of food & drink are higher in such establishments, but that's the price for privacy and discretion - valuable commodities in this part of the world.
Transport to Kakarbhitta - Eastern border with India: From Kathmandu I took the long bus journey to the Eastern border - Kakarvitta (340 NRs. about 15 hrs.) From the Indian town of Siliguri my next destination was Gangtok, Sikkim.

India: Sikkim
Sikkim Permit:
I was at the SNT office in Siliguri to get my Sikkim permit as soon as it opened at 10am, I thought I could be on the 11am bus. However, there was only one officer authorized to give the permit & she didn't arrive until 12:30 (she said she had a flu & had been thinking of calling in sick, I'm glad she changed her mind). I then took a jeep to Gangtok (80 Rs. 4 hrs.)
I'll continue from there in my next message...


email from: Kathmandu, Nepal Dec 3
Nov. 22
Flight: Bangkok-Calcutta:
Flew from Bangkok to Calcutta on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan, smallest jet plane I've seen. We were caught in a cyclone over Calcutta, which made for a somewhat bumpy ride.
Calcutta impressions: Probably because of the storm there were few people on the flooded streets, & so my first impressions of Calcutta were actually very calm & placid. I got a room at Hotel Maria for 125 Rs. There is a street vendor outside Hotel Maria, his cart says 'Tirupati Cafe', & he actually does a pretty tasty rendition of Korean food, even makes his own kim-chi!
The next day I found my way on foot to the Railway Reservations office. It's near Dalhousie Square, so if you find that landmark, then ask around & find the railway office without much difficulty (another hint - it's across the street from ANZ Bank).
Nov. 24
Before leaving Calcutta went to check out this park called Eden Gardens, where in the 1850's the British decided to put a pagoda shipped over from a town in Burma.
The night train from Calcutta to Gaya...
In the middle of the night I noticed that the train seemed to have been stopped for an extremely long time. I asked the other passengers what was going on & someone explained to me - some robbers had entered the first compartment & stabbed some people in the process of robbing them. The wounded were taken to the hospital & the police were filing their report, thus we were delayed at that station ('Bardawan'?) for three hours. The man who explained this said that although such incidents are common in Bihar (the region I was heading to) this was the first he heard of it happening in Bengal. He seemed saddened & disappointed in his countrymen.
Nov. 25
Gaya:
Arriving at Gaya, I look around the platform & soon spot an old friend who I always seem to run into at the most uncanny moments, getting off the same train. He has 15 yrs. experience travelling in India so I let him do the negotiating with the drivers & we share a vehicle from Gaya to Bodh Gaya - where the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath the Bo tree 2500 years ago. ( the correct price for the ride from Gaya to Bodh Gaya should be 60 to 80 Rs.) In Bodh Gaya I stayed at the Burmese Vihar.
Across from the Burmese Vihar are several tent-restaurants. One called Pole Pole was successful, so another restaurant opened next to it & also called itself Pole Pole!
The Pole Pole which is to the right drew me in the evening by playing Miles Davis & John Coltrane cassettes. One evening while waiting for the dish I ordered, I wandered out back to observe a cremation in progress. I approached cautiously, not wanting to offend the relatives of the departed, but they didn't seem to mind.
After several days in Bodh Gaya, including an excursion one day with some Tibetan lamas to some other nearby pilgrimage places - Rajgir, the Vulture Peak Mountain; & Nalanda - a huge Buddhist University in ancient times, it was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 12th century, the library is said to have burned for 6 months. The ruins were rediscovered by a British explorer in the 19th century, but of the original 7 by 3 km. only one square km. has been excavated.
Border Crossing - Nepal: Then, on Nov. 29 I went by bus to Nepal byway of Patna. Since I arrived at the border (Raxaul/Birganj) About 15 minutes past official closing time the Nepali official demanded an additional $5 bribe. Lonely Planet describes this particular border town as 'not a place to stick around' & for once I'm inclined to agree with them, so I payed the baksheesh & caught the last bus to Kathmandu. I had the front passenger seat in the driver cabin of the bus. I awoke to spectacular scenery as we approached Kathmandu...
to be continued ...

email from: Calcutta, Nov 30th

Bangkok: Arrived Nov.9
Accommodation: Some guesthouses I stayed in on Khaosan Rd. : Siam Oriental - 350 B for air conditioned room w/ attached bathroom.
CH1 Guesthouse - 120 B for basic room w/ fan.

Transport to Cambodia: Paid 280 B on Khaosan Rd. for bus to Cambodia border. I'm told (incorrectly, it turns out) that i don't need a visa for 5 days in Cambodia. Nov. 11 - Early morning van shuttle from Khaosan Rd. to bus station for bus to Aryanaprathet. Research at bus station reveals that the ticket for the bus to Aryanaprathet costs 140 B. From Khaosan Rd. area (Banglamphu) bus #3 goes to this bus station & costs 3 and a half B. Thus, as usual, you can save a little by doing it yourself.
4 hr. journey to Aryanaprathet - from there 40 B for tuk-tuk to border. At the checkpoint the Thai immigration officer looks through my passport & tells me I can't go without a visa for Cambodia & furthermore visas are not available at the border! So, I have to just turn right around go back to Bangkok. Moral of the story - get a Cambodia visa before trying to cross overland!
Cambodian Visa: To avoid paying an extra surcharge to a Khaosan Rd. travel agent for your visa you can go directly to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok (bus # 15 from Banglamphu). Flight to Phnom Penh: However, at this point I'd decided to just fly into Phnomh Penh. Got a one way ticket for 3500 B ( 3000 on Bangkok Airline but I'd have to wait an extra day to fly).

Cambodia

Nov. 13th - Fly to Cambodia. Arriving at Pochentong I share the $7 airport taxi with 4 others to Capitol Hotel(single room $3. w/ bathroom $4)
Later stayed at the former 'Bert's Books' Guesthouse, which is no longer 'Bert's Books' but 'Pyco Guesthouse. $5 for room w/ fan, bathroom, & view of Tonle Sap River.
On Phnomh Penh Moto drivers -
Although a sign in one of the upperscale hotels in town tries to discourage finding one's own driver & says they probably won't speak English, etc. Not only do most of the drivers i met speak English but many are conversant in Japanese as well - especially around guesthouses favoured by Japanese, such as the Capitol.
When choosing a driver talk a while, look into his eyes, and use your intuition. I was fortunate to find a really good driver who I relied on most of my stay in Phnomh Penh. I expressed interest in his Japanese class & he agreed to take me along one evening, it was very interesting to observe a Japanese class in Cambodia.

Siem Reap
Boat to Siem Reap($25. 5 hrs.).
In Siem Reap stayed at Apsara Guesthouse (room w/ fan $3).
Border Crossing to Thailand: From Siem Reap I returned to Thailand overland, paid about $12 for front seat in vehicle to border. The road to the border is indeed as bad as everyone says it is, but ultimately it's not such a big deal.

Flight to India: Returning to Bangkok, I got a one way ticket to Calcutta for 4100 B. Sun. Nov.22 - fly to Calcutta.
(to be continued...)


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