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After our time in the mountains, it felt strange to return to the bustle of the city. We shed our layers and appreciated the warmer weather, enjoyed our favourite food in Kathmandu (Shawarma at Kathmandu Doner Kebab) and got ready for the second part of our Nepal trip. We were headed to the lakeside town of Pokhara in the Himalayas, rafting and to Chitwan National Park for a safari.
You can read our last update here.
Arriving back in Kathmandu at Holy Lodge, felt a little like returning home. We were excitedly welcomed back and reunited with the luggage we left there. After spending the last 10 nights in teahouses, hot showers and mattresses felt pretty luxurious.
Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurnas and an adventure sport centre, which reminded us a bit of Queenstown, NZ. The roads in Nepal are seriously terrible. We had originally planned to take the full day local bus to cover the 200 km. However since we were 10 people, we decided to take our own private vehicle ($185 USD for a 14-seat vehicle). It still took 8 hours to get there, but at least we got to bump and stagger along in our own vehicle. It is hard to believe that this is the main road that runs across Nepal.
Those 8 hours on the road gave us a chance to really take in the Nepal countryside. Most of the drive is spent hugging the side of the hills, moving slowly along among the smoke bellowing trucks. We saw the many brick kilns that contribute to the poor air quality of Nepal and the suspension bridges across the Trishuli River that connect the villages.
Chilling in Pokhara
Pokhara for us was all about relaxation after our trek. On the day we arrived, you could see the tops of the snow-capped Annapurna range sticking out above the clouds, but unfortunately that was the only day we actually saw the mountains.
The Lakeside area is a mini-Thamel (Kathmandu) with lots of gear and souvenir shops. But, quieter and more peaceful and picturesque with its location right on Phewa Lake. We spent some time paddle boating and kayaking on the lake. You can rent a large paddle boat for 1,600/hour ($20 CAD) or various other boats with or without a boatman. You can rent kayaks and stand up paddle boards from Paddle Nepal.
The kids weren’t too keen on any long hikes, but we did manage to get them to climb to the World Peace Pagoda. From there we had beautiful views over the lake. The Nichols-Tomlins’ woke up early to see the sunrise at Sarangot, but us Nicholsons don’t seem to be morning people. We enjoyed visiting the Pokhara Mountaineering Museum, which has lots of interesting info about the peaks, mountaineers, the effect of climate change and more. It isn’t really an interactive museum, but our kids enjoyed being able to recognize the mountains they had seen, seeing how the gear and equipment has evolved and learning about the effects of climate change on the glaciers. There is even a mountain model outside for the kids to climb. The Museum is on the edge of Pokhara, so we recommend taking a taxi. Admission is 500/person, including kids over 4 ($6 CAD).
Seti River Rafting
After a few relaxing days in Pokhara, we were ready for our next adventure: a 2-day rafting trip on the Seti River. It is marketed as a great way to get between Pokhara and Chitwan National Park and we definitely think it beats taking the local bus! The Seti is a gentle river that is perfect for families and we had an amazing trip with Paddle Nepal.
We were 3 families of 6 adults and 8 kids. The rafting was exciting, without being scary, and there was lots of time for swimming, splashing, cliff jumping and hopping boats. We spent our overnight on a beach on the river’s edge, with a campfire, lots of time to play and appreciate being in such a quiet part of Nepal. You can read our full post about our rafting trip here.
Chitwan National Park
We really debated going to Chitwan National Park because it is out of the way (along the India-Nepal border) and we had all done safaris before. I didn’t have any real expectations, but just hoped we would see a few exotic animals. While there are tigers in the park, it is so rare to see them, that I didn’t even get my hopes up.
We arrived into the dusty and quiet town of Sauraha and immediately felt like we were in a completely different country. We were now in the humid jungles of the Terai region. Suddenly we were missing the freezing temperatures of the mountains where we didn’t have to contend with high 30s temperatures and mosquitoes!
We opted for a full-day jeep safari through Chitwan National Park. We had an early morning start where we took a thin and long dugout boat across the river, to meet our Jeep, driver and guide. We started off seeing quite a few peacocks up in the trees, before seeing a rhino and some deer. When we were least expecting it, a tiger walked across the path in front of us! We were in shock and couldn’t believe we were actually seeing a tiger in the wild! It was completely surreal as we watched him continue on, into the jungle. Even our guide and driver were excited as they hadn’t seen one in over a month. Jeep safaris can accommodate 10 people and cost 16,000-23,000 depending on your negotiation skills ($200-300 CAD), plus the National Park fee of 2,000/person ($25 CAD), kids 10 and under are free.
After the excitement of the tiger, we did see many rhinos, which are amazing as well. We saw some monkeys, deer, and lots of cool birds including the famous “sperm bird” (our name, not the official name, which led to a whole conversation about what sperm are!) It was a really long day, but we are so glad we added Chitwan into our itinerary.
The next day we watched the mahouts wash their elephants. Elephant tourism in Nepal is changing as tourists seek out more natural interactions with elephants. It is still common for tourists to do elephant safaris and there is a government breeding ground you can visit, but there are also more ethical experiences where you bathe and walk with elephants. We didn’t see any elephants in the wild, but we did see many domesticated elephants in town.
One evening we even saw a rhino wander down the main road, oblivious to the town around him.
From Sauraha, we took a private vehicle back to Kathmandu (6 hours, cost 14,000 ($180 CAD)). We reunited with our new friends we met on the rafting trip, a Canadian family that was doing a year sabbatical in Kathmandu. They graciously invited all 10 of us over for a home-cooked meal, let us do our laundry, and enjoy some time in a house. Friendships may be fleeting when you are traveling, but it is one of the best parts of traveling nevertheless.
Our Layover in Hong Kong
After flying budget airlines for the past three months, it was so nice to fly full-service with Cathay Pacific. We had an awkward 5 hours night flight from Kathmandu to Hong Kong. Landing at 4 am, we chose to sleep for a few hours at the airport instead of paying for an extra night of accommodation. These are the joys of budget travel!
Hong Kong was a really scary place for us as budget travelers. It had taken me weeks to finally book a shoe box of a room for a ridiculous amount of money and while I was excited to visit a city I had never been to before, I was nervous about its high-cost reputation.
We had a few more days with our friends and since they were very familiar with HK, I got a break from travel planning and got to follow along. We stayed in Kowloon and explored the markets of Mong Kok. We indulged in two incredible dim sum meals in one day, took the cable car to visit Big Buddha, saw the nightly light show on the Harbour, took the historic Star ferries across the Harbour and explored the mid-way escalators and green spaces. Of course we were appalled with the prices and wondered how anyone could afford to live in this city – $10 CAD for a cup of coffee??!!
As we were walking through the raised walkways on the Sunday we were there, we noticed many women lining the walkways, sitting on cardboard and thought they might be part of a protest. As we continued to see them, we realized they were foreign workers on their day off and this is where they go to spend the day with friends. It was sad to realize that they had nowhere else to go and made us consider once again the effects of international migration.
Just a few days earlier at the Kathmandu airport, we saw plane loads full of young men on their way to work in the Middle East and Malaysia. We learned that 1,600 Nepalis leave each day to work overseas, often in poor work conditions. Remittances from overseas make up 31% of Nepal’s GDP, making it a huge part of their economy. Again and again we reflect on how unfair it is to have the privilege of being born in Canada. It could be us leaving our families in search of better opportunities abroad.
Where We Stayed
Holy Lodge, Kathmandu – a great budget option in Thamel, we returned here three times and were always greeted with enthusiasm. Santosh, the owner, helped us organize our guide and porters on our trek and we stored out luggage here. We had a family room with 4 single beds for $30 USD/night, including a delicious hot breakfast.
Hotel Orchid, Pokhara – clean and modern hotel in a quieter area of Lakeside. We had a family room with 2 singles and a double for $52 CAD including a good hot breakfast. We loved having a kettle in our room and toilet paper provided!
Chitwan Gaida Lodge – this is an older safari lodge that gets good reviews. You can stay in the cottages or the more modern main building. We stayed in the cottages, 2000/triple ($25 CAD).
What We Spent
I am not going to include our few days in Hong Kong, which were much more expensive ($288+/day).
While our food and accommodation costs were really low this week, our activities and transport costs are quite high, resulting in a per day budget of over $200. We did the rafting trip and safari in this week, two high cost activities. Note: we paid a reduced cost on our rafting trip in exchange for our honest Paddle Nepal review and video.
Total Cost = $1584 CAD ($226 CAD/day)
Accommodation Cost = $201 CAD
Food Cost = $349 CAD
Transport Cost = $230 CAD
Entertainment/Activities Cost = $805 CAD
This was officially the end of our 3 months trip. From Hong Kong, our friends headed home to Australia, Paul headed back to Toronto to work and the kids and I went to Alberta to visit my brother’s family and meet our new niece/cousin. After a week in the mountains, we reunited with Paul at home. The kids went back to school and life resumed as normal.
Many people ask me how the kids’ transition home and back to school was and it truly was seamless. They really enjoy school and slotted right back into their classes and after-school activities. They were happy to be home with their friends and back in our house.
Since I am off work until September, I am looking forward to spending lots of time on the blog and writing detailed articles on the places we visited. I would be remiss if I implied that transitioning home is easy for me. I struggle being stationary and am already dreaming and planning about the next trip.