Highland Asia Griffiths Group Tour October 22-November 18, 2011 - Comments
Manaslu Hotel was excellent and very comfortable; unfortunately we did not have time or energy to take advantage of the amenities. I recommend it, even though the location down the alley seemed strange. A map of the area around the hotel and some locations of places to eat would have been handy although we found a good Indian restaurant not far away. Also, would have been nice for our friends who arrived later to be at the same hotel. We met our guide Krishna Kharel who was a jewel!
Village Hiking – This was a highlight of Nepal and I highly recommend it as we got to see some great rural areas and stay in some good places. We found the hike on the first day after our arrival to be a little difficult – 14Km, 1,900 feet up to Nagarkot—it took us 4+ hours. Maybe, it would be a good idea to start with an easier hike and build up to that one.
The Fort Resort was exceptional, memorable and highly recommended; lovely setting and excellent rooms and other accommodations. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to seen the sunrise and the mountains.
Dhulikhel Mt. Resort - This also was a wonderful place with good accommodations. They provided a pre-dinner show of Nepali dance and drama that was good. The buffet at the restaurant was very crowded and a little over priced for what you received. The restaurant was too busy to order off the menu. We were tired and hungry so we had snacks in our room which was fine. Again, cloudy so we missed the view of the mountains. When we left we decided to pass up on the 12 Km hike up to Namo Buddha, but visited another area which was fine. Had a visit with an interesting “hermit” who is a local holy man. Would recommend that people go up to this resort and stay few days to see the area.
Yak N Yeti Hotel - transfer to hotel from the Manasula went smoothly. The hotel was excellent; good service, clean and nice. The food was good, reasonably priced for what you got. However, the restaurant was very crowded – suggest people get reservations if they are going to eat dinner there, even for the buffet. The rooms were excellent and quiet. Enjoyed the setting and the grounds and the amenities (tennis court and pool) though we did not have time to do much except stroll around.
Kathmandu Touring - Really appreciated and enjoyed the visit to Krishna’s home to meet his family and help him celebrate the festival. The day of the Everest flight (October 27) was packed especially since we did not get on our flight until after 9:30 AM. If possible and weather is cooperating, recommend that tickets be for the earliest flight. We saw a lot of Kathmandu in a short time period and given we had only one day it was well scheduled. On return to Kathmandu completed the tour with a visit to Bhakapur, the Bagmati River and Pashypatinath Temple - both were very good. Ended the evening with a mad tour of the city to see the lights. It was a little crazy as we got into the middle of a police or military convoy and had problems staying together.
Chitwan National Park - another highlight. We had an excellent naturalist as a local guide and got to do and see a lot of the area. We passed on the rafting as we wanted to relax after a busy day in Kathmandu and the Trishuli River (along the road) did not look that clean or interesting and we raft in the States. Also, did not take the cable car to the temple as it did not sound that interesting and we have all been on plenty of cable cars before when skiing, etc. On elephant ride we saw four one horned Rhinoceros including a mother and baby. Canoe trip was good as was the walking around. Unfortunately, we were told there were no leeches this time of year, but it had been a wet season and they were still out. The guide kept assuring us that the “season” was over for leeches. However, several of our group became more acquainted with leeches (the small ones) than they wanted to – especially our Hawaiian who did not wear socks. Suggest you warn people to tuck their socks over their pant legs if it is wet at all. This area was great fun and should not be missed on a tour of Nepal. Saw lots of birds and several crocodiles. Found the Elephant Breeding Farm a little sad – even though they seemed well taken care of, they were all chained up and had limited ability to move about. Enjoyed the “elephant wash” – several of us joined in and it was really a “tourist wash”!
Highland Asia Griffiths Group Tour October 22-November 18, 2011
Rhino Residency Resort – A great place, enjoyed the swimming pool (actually had time to use it) and the quiet. Food was very good. Local guide provided was excellent and knowledgeable.
Bandipur – interesting place. Enjoyed the town tour and relaxing. Again cloudy so did not see views of mountains. Siddha Gupha - Hike up to the cave was rocky and fairly steep, suggest hiking poles be used on this outing. Cave was ok; probably great for some who like caves; it was not that remarkable but interesting. There could be an option offered of other hikes around the area.
Bandipur Mountain Resort – Good location, accommodations were fine, food was good, service was good. This place was fine and would recommend it - no problems with it. However, just down the road was a very interesting place that looked fairly new, Himalayan Mountain Retreat. It was tent camping with shared baths that looked quite nice, but only for those who would be comfortable in that type of accommodations. They had “real coffee” and even espresso! You did not have to stay there to appreciate the coffee.
Pokhara – No sunrise viewing as it was cloudy. Touring and some shopping. The Davis Fall was very interesting. Visited another cave and hiked up to Buddist Stupa – good hike 1 hour 45 minutes up and 45 minutes down with lots of steps.
Fish Tail Lodge – great place; enjoyed our two nights here very much. Good rooms, good laundry, good food, good service within a relaxing quiet setting.
Paro - Arrival and hotel transfer went smoothly. Met our Bhutan guide, Namgay Wangchuk. He seems young, but is very confident and knowledgeable. Only in Paro for a short time on our arrival (late afternoon and evening) before we left the next day for excursion of Haa Valley and Thimphu. but will stay there two days on return. • Galling Resort – Stayed here on arrival and again on return to Paro. Service, food and location was excellent. On our stay when we arrived we had a room that was noisy – too close to the kitchen and one of the heaters did not work. We met the owner who seemed very interested in our feedback and wanted to know what he could do to make improvements. For our return, I asked our guide to request different quiet rooms. We got upgraded to great rooms – they were their deluxe rooms on second floor overlooking the river with sitting area, coffee and good beds. The attached bathroom was one of the best. In spite of concern about the missing headphones, I would recommend this resort.
Thimphu – Good tours here include the Big Buddha, National Handicraft School, paper making factory, weekend market, Dzong Trasichoe and Takin Zoo.
Hotel Dragon Roots – mixed reviews; rooms were fine but hotel was noisy; charged extra for wi-fi, but could use computer in lobby for free, food was ok. However, it was good to stay two nights at the same place.
Meri Phuensum Resort – newer place, accommodations were excellent and so was the food and service. Nice location, quiet overlooking the valley.
Highland Asia Griffiths Group Tour October 22-November 18, 2011
Highlight of trip. All 5 of us had a wonderful time. Fortunately, we got 4 days of excellent weather, clear sky and good views of mountains and hills. The food was great, the cook and crew were excellent. Camping was fun, tents were nice and new, but mats provided were very thin. Crew accommodated to our every wish and hot lunches were amazing. Hikes were good though of course with some up and down, but at a good pace (thank you Namgay). Seeing and interacting with school children along the way and visiting the Samtengang Secondary School was great. The school visit was not on the agenda but happened because we learned that a young man from Seattle, Washington was teaching there so our guide arranged a visit and then we invited the teacher, Conner, to join us for dinner where we learned a lot about the school system. Happy to be hiking down back to the road at Chuzomsa where our vehicle came after about a 10 minute wait – amazing coordination – could you do it without cell phones?
Phobjika – The drive over the Pele-la and Yotongla passes was speculator. The weather cleared and we saw the mountains. Hiked to see the black necked cranes, but they were late coming in so did not see as many as we hoped, but saw about 40 birds and had a good hike.
Valley View Guest House – Nice location – quiet. Accommodations were excellent - large rooms with small wood burning stove for heat and attached bathrooms with shower. Good beds, very comfortable with nice quilts. The electricity was out throughout the valley so hot water was a problem at first, but it got fixed quickly. Food was marginal, but the service and staff were excellent.
Bumthang – The festival was very interesting. The people watching were the best and the dances were interesting. It would have been nice to get an information sheet explaining the dances. Our guide gave us a general explanation beforehand, but having a more detailed explanation while we watched would have been good. We enjoyed staying at the festival grounds and having our picnic lunch in the car so we could go back and see more and visit the fair area. Some of us got some good bargains here on handicrafts. We went to the festival in the morning and it was crowded, but heard that it was less crowded in the afternoon. Second day we toured the area including another Dzong – quite large and amazing. Visited Burning Lake, passed on the Swiss cheese factory and walked through the town in the evening.
Gongkhar Guest House – Just on the edge of town, but that was fine. It was quiet, clean and the service was excellent. The accommodations were good, clean, large rooms with attached bath (but water flow in shower was wimpy – not much water came out). Wood stove in room kept us warm as did the great comforters provided. Excellent Wi-Fi in the restaurant, but not in the rooms. Sitting room outside the restaurant with TV. Tea and cookies served in the afternoon were nice.
Trongsa – The drive back to Punaka was very interesting but long. Even though the roads are narrow with steep drop offs, I felt safe as our drivers were excellent, experienced and very careful. The Black Mountains and all of the forested areas are wonderful. We stopped on drive back to visit the Tower Museum that was closed on Friday, November 11 when we drove from Phobjika to Bumthang. The other group went to Punaka via Phobjika to see the cranes that they missed previously.
Paro – Takstang Monastery hike – Tiger’s Nest – is a must do. Only four of our group chose to hike all the way up. Those who did not hike all the way up missed out. The hike up from the cafeteria was not too difficult – only for people who have bad knees and problems going up and down lots of steps. Spent most of our time on this excursion so did not do anything else which was fine.
Highland Asia Griffiths Group Tour October 22-November 18, 2011
Most of us would have appreciated receiving the detailed itinerary sooner; preferably 5-6 weeks ahead. If the detailed itinerary is not complete by then, participants could receive the information regarding visas, clothing and equipment and other items to take, etc. or be referred to your web site for the information.
I very much appreciated the phone calls before we left and after we returned. The phone call before we left was reassuring since we booked with a company that I had not traveled with before and I felt responsible for it going well for everyone. And it did!
Even though we agreed with it, the itinerary was a little too packed. While the drive to the Haa Valley was spectacular it would be better to either stay overnight there or omit this side excursion on the way to Thimphu. If the weather is bad and closed in it would definitely be good to skip this side trip.
Enjoyed the nights where we stayed two days in one place and I would recommend this when possible.
The changes made in the hotels listed on the Final Trip Dossier and what was listed on the initial trip itinerary ended up being a little confusing. It is still unclear why the reservations were not confirmed at the Valley View Guest House in Phobjika such that they attempted to move the non-trekking group to another place.
The drives were long and some of the group (3-4 of them in Dawa’s group) were intimidated by the narrow roads with drop offs - see description below. However, the drivers were very careful and we all felt that they were very safe drivers. You may want to warn travelers about the condition of the roads in your information package.
We received a lot of information about the history and culture of Bhutan especially from Namgay.
One person suggested that an engagement in some activity, i.e. painting, carving, etc. would be interesting.
Some would have liked to have more information about the topography and geology of Bhutan.
A scheduled visit to a school would be a good addition. Both groups ended up visiting schools and enjoyed it very much. We are a bunch of professors and educators so others might not enjoy this as much.
The opportunities that we had to interact with the local people were great and I would encourage the guides to facilitate this when possible.
The only glitch in the entire trip was the change of plans made by the non-trekking guide and some of the communication regarding how and why it happened. Apparently there was some discussion and a decision to make a change while the group was still in Thimphu because I got a call from Anand that evening. I have heard several different stories and still do not know exactly how the changes came about. It sounded as if Dawa did not want to stay in Phobjika or at the lodging provided. Maybe it doesn’t matter how it came about. However, I understand that once the guide took the group off the schedule it did not make sense to take the long drive to backtrack back to Phobjika to join the rest of the group. At that point I guess it did not make sense to return to one bus since the second driver and guide would have to return to Thimphu anyway. Even though this was confusing and somewhat distressing for me, it worked out ok for all. The only down side of these changes were for you and Anand who had to absorb the extra costs of two guides, two drivers and two busses for the remaining six days of the trip.
For a larger group that might be worried about a bigger vehicle on the roads, you may want to suggest they engage two small vehicles for the tour when arrangements are made so that the participants will pay for the extra services up front.
Once the groups were joined together it was a good idea to have one person, Namgay, be the head guide and not have two as that would have added confusion.
our suggestion to spend more time in Bhutan was a good one along with the suggestion for the Winter Trek. Highland Asia Griffiths Group Tour October 22-November 18, 2011
Overall, the tour was very well organized, with good logistical support, excellent guides and lodging.
I would recommend your company and the two guides Krishna and Namgay to anyone who asks; especially those who want an individualized tour. You may use us as a reference for others interested in a trip to Nepal and/or Bhutan.
Comments and Itinerary for non-trekking party of six*
Sunday, November 6: Thimphu – Hike to Tango monastery took group two hours instead of 45 minutes to 1 hour. Lunch at Karma coffee with excellent food. Visit to open air market. Dinner was excellent at Dawa’s friend’s restaurant.
Monday, November 7: Drove from Thimphu to Punakha over Dochu la pass. Hike to monastery built by divine madman and Punakha Dzong. Stayed at the Dragon’s Nest Resort overlooking river. Celebrated Dawa’s 28th birthday with cake.
Tuesday, November 8: Change of plans and drove to the Tongsa Valley – 7 hours drive over “…road almost impassable with a great deal of rockslides potholes and turns close to the edge of the cliff…” Stayed at the Viewpoint Resort, less than a year old. Group did not want to go back over the pass to meet trekkers (Understandable- see quote above/Betty) so stayed three nights here at View Point Resort arranged by Dawa. Wednesday, November 9: Visited winter place of the second King, Juengarbten. Lunch at Yangkil Resort and visit the Trongsa Dzonkha. Dined by candlelight again as power went out at 5:30 PM. Rooms are very large at hotel and space heater did not adequately heat them.
Thursday, November 10: Visit to watch tower museum on Trongsa. Yangkiul Resort for lunch again. Afternoon visit to Trongsa Primary School where Dawa’s uncle, Nima Lama, is the principal. The group really enjoyed the school visit.
Friday, November 11: Travel to Bumthang took more than 4 hours. Joined the trekking party at the Gongkhar Guest House.
Betty G and party of 11 travelers, Bhutan and Nepal Tour Oct-Nov, 2011