Million Dollar Views at Rupakot Resort

Million Dollar Views at Rupakot

The Pokhara region of Nepal is known (among other things) for the beautiful Fewa Lake. But lesser known is the fact that Fewa Lake is not the only lake in the area. About forty-five minutes before you reach Pokhara is the turnoff to the lovely Lakes Begnas and Rupa. There is a sign at the highway that reads ‘Begnas Tal: 3.5 kms’, but it doesn’t seem that many tourists go there. There are just some small villages scattered around the lakes. I stayed at the Rupakot Resort, which is a very bumpy, dusty drive up the hill overlooking the lakes. The location is absolutely perfect, especially when the weather is clear, as it was in the first week of December when I visited. December isn’t a busy season for tourists in Nepal, but I think it should be. The weather is fine, if a little cold overnight, and the mountains are out in all their glory. This was my third visit to the Pokhara area, but the first time that the full range of the Annapurna Himalayas were out for the whole time (I had previously been in October and April). Sunsets were especially gorgeous from Rupakot Resort, as the white snow of the Himalayas was drenched pink. I spent two nights at the resort, and while I wouldn’t actually recommend staying there, I recommend making a day trip. You can make a detour on your way to or from Pokhara and spend the day at the resort, having lunch,…

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The Sanga to Panauti Community Hike

The Sanga to Panauti Community Hike

On a Sunday in late November, a throng of 40+ Nepali and international tourism-industry professionals undertook the new Sanga to Panauti Community Hike for the first time. This new ten kilometre route has been established by Royal Mountain Travel, CommunityHomestay.com and Travel Social Good (TSG+) as a way of bringing visitors to this under-trekked area just outside the Kathmandu Valley, and to provide the local Tamang communities with another source of income. Back in September, I stayed at the Panauti Community Homestay, in the town about 40 kilometres from Kathmandu. One intention with this new Sanga to Panauti (or, in reverse, Panauti to Sanga) hike is to tie it in with the homestay initiative. Guests can spend the day hiking either way, and then spend the night at a homestay at the end of the day, or be picked up at Sanga for onward travel to Kathmandu. I walked with a group of about 40 others, so progress was a little slow and the hike took all day (from 10am until about 4.30pm). But I think it could be done much faster if you were in a smaller group. For more details on the Sanga to Panauti Community Hike, read my article about it on Inside Himalayas.

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Eclectic High Tea in Penang

Eclectic High Tea in Penang at the Macalister Mansion

The island city of Penang, Malaysia does several things to perfection: hawker food, icy cold air conditioning, charmingly dilapidated Chinese shop-fronts and renovated mansions that once belonged to rich and powerful local tycoons. The Macalister Mansion is the latter, and combines the grandeur and elegance of Penang’s Chinese and British colonial heritage with quirky modern design, all in a luxury setting. Set in a spacious plot a little outside the boundaries of George Town’s UNESCO World Heritage designated area, the Macalister Mansion comprises the Living Room, the Dining Room, the Cellar and the Den–all serving different types of food and beverage at different times of day–as well as Eight Rooms, eight luxury and individually designed guest rooms. There is also a sparkling pool surrounded by fragrant frangipani trees, exclusively for guest use. After several days of sampling the cheap-and-very-cheerful street-side and food-court cuisine of George Town, I enjoyed a change of pace (and palate) with high tea at the Macalister Mansion. The Living Room is bright and white, elegantly decorated with hanging pot plants and the wrought iron window grilles and English tile floors that are so characteristic of Penang. I was presented with a tea list so long that the waiter clearly perceived the confusion on my face and recommended something to me, whisking the menu away afterwards. I still don’t know what I ordered, but I was brought a pot of sweetish fragrant tea that resembled a mild jasmine tea. The life of a travel writer… notebook and pen…

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A Reason to Visit Mindanao: Camiguin Island

A Reason to Visit Mindanao: Camiguin Island

Just off the coast of northern Mindanao in the Philippines is the perfect volcanic island of Camiguin. The hour-long ferry ride from the mainland doesn’t actually reflect the adventure and relative remoteness of this Philippine island, however. Mindanao is firmly off the well-trodden Southeast Asian beach destination circuit. This is not without reason. As Ralph Jennings reported in Forbes Magazine in October 2016: At least four Muslim rebel groups operate on the island and once in a while they set off a bomb or kidnap foreign tourists. The vigilante group Abu Sayyaf, for example, beheaded a Canadian hostage in April. Nasty stuff. Several countries (including the UK, Canada, Australia and the US) issue travel advisories against travel to Mindanao. This island is the second largest island in the Philippine archipelago, and the biggest in the south, and as Jennings goes on to note: Most of the 104,000-square-kilometer island is safe from rebel bombings and kidnappings. Rebels usually operate in the west and on outlying islands such as Basilan and Jolo, where the Moro group of Muslims has run its own affairs for some 800 years and just wants other forces to let them. Practically all tourists who come to Mindanao—around 90%–are Filipinos. So, as a foreign tourist, if you want a beach destination that offers the best of both worlds—enough tourism infrastructure but without the over-the-top commercialisation and crowds of other parts of Southeast Asia—then parts of Mindanao are perfect. Such as Camiguin Island. Camiguin is a microcosm of the…

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Business Class and a Transit Hotel... on a Budget

Business Class and a Transit Hotel… on a Budget

I’m generally a budget traveller–out of necessity rather than aesthetic preference. I’m no longer 21 and counting every cent, so I don’t go for dorms any longer, but budget hotels, public transport and cheap restaurants are staples of my travel routine. So how did I end up flying business class and staying in a transit hotel (rather than the airport floor!) on my recent trip from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur? I’ve long been a fan of Air Asia, the low-cost Malaysian airline with the motto ‘Now everyone can fly’. It flies to dozens (maybe hundreds) of places all around Asia (and further afield), usually at around half the cost of other airlines. I’ve taken numerous trips simply because Air Asia made the destinations affordable to me–Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia… They also fly to Kathmandu, making to-ing and fro-ing from Nepal quite affordable. And not only are they cheaper, they’re actually not that bad. No frills, certainly, and a little short on leg (and body) room. But in my experience they are usually on time, and the service is good. (Unlike many European budget airlines.) Air Asia only offers business class on select flights–the longer legs, what they call the Air Asia X routes. They advertise it more as ‘Premium Flatbed’ than business class per se. When I was looking at flights from Kathmandu to Manila, business class was on sale. Not only that, the business class seats were cheaper than the economy class seats on the same flight. Thus, my first…

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