The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

By Telma | 08 April 2017 | Fiji | Travel Guides

Bula Vinaka!

With more than 300 islands distributed in the South Pacific, Fiji is perfectly located on the 180 degrees’ longitude line, also known as the 180th meridian where the beginning of each day occurs. And if you are wondering about it, yes it’s awesome! We visited Taveuni and ticked off “time travel” out of our bucket list!

But Fiji isn’t only about the turquoise water and palm fringed beaches, there is much more to it. More than you could even begin to think of. Its people, the local customs and culture is really what makes Fiji so special. Fiji is a place often dreamed of by many couples looking for the perfect Honeymoon holiday, or maybe travellers just wanting to have a taste of Fiji while backpacking Australia or New Zealand. Fiji is such an unexpected surprise. We were lucky to have been able to live on the main island, also known as Viti Levu, with the Deaf Community and get to know the ins and outs of this incredible island and most of all living with Fijians.

The opportunity to stay for 2.5 months in Fiji was amazing and we wish we could have stayed much, much longer. We volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School; stayed in a village; slid down a natural water slide carved into the rocks; witnessed Firewalking; watched Meke Dance; swam with sharks and manta rays; lived with the locals; visited Fji’s biggest waterfall; watched stunning sunrises and sunsets; enjoyed some “Fiji Time” and most of all, met wonderful people, whom welcomed us with open arms. These people, now friends, taught us their ways and made us feel part of their family.

Ultimately, we are so fond of the country that we really want to encourage other travellers to stay a little longer in the main island and explore it fully. So don’t be too hasty for the paradisiac islands and enjoy the Fijian hospitality.

fijian people accommdationAsenaca’s family, Taveuni



The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

Fiji is one of the most multi-cultural countries in the Pacific; everywhere you turn you see East Indians, Melanesians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese and European. With such a rich variety of cultures, no wonder Fiji is so welcoming to everyone who passes by.

Bula or Bula Vinaka (happiness and good health) used as a warm greeting meaning – you will hear at every turn, emphasizing the friendly outgoing nature of the Fijian people.

Fiji Islands Map

map of fijiPhoto Credit: Ezilon

Travel Guide Fiji

General information about Fiji

The Food: a variety of Indian and Chinese food can be found everywhere. Fiji’s famous dish, the lovo is cooked on special occasions, such as family gatherings or birthdays. This is an underground oven of heated rocks used for cooking meats and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. It’s delicious!

Social Kava Drinking: clap once when accepting the bowl, then take it in both hands and say “Bula” just before drinking it. Then clap three times after handing the empty bowl. Out of respect you must accept the first bowl, and if you wish to decline the second, please do it respectfully. About the taste? Erm…not the best to be honest. And it leaves a numbing sensation in your mouth. The locals love it, some of them live on it. For tourists is just a bit of fun while socialising. Everyone should at least try it once.

The Dress Code: around Suva, Nadi and Lautoka there is more flexibility, as you will see girls wearing shorts, dresses and tank tops, although when in villages or remote islands women should wear a sulu wrapped around to cover their legs in respect of the culture. Thomas and I enjoyed wearing the traditional clothes, because not only did it ensure we were 100% part of the culture but everyone really appreciated our effort.

The Pronunciation: Fijian pronounce ‘mb’ as b, ‘nd’ as d and ‘ng’ as g. For example, Nadi is Nandi, Sigatoka is Singatoka, Samabula is Samambula.
It’s a lot of fun learning it, give it a go!

traditional food in fijiCooking Lovo at Nilesh’s house, Lautoka

social kava drinkingFiji Deaf Association, Social Night, Suva

fiji dress codeSunday Church, Suva

the people fijiLeona’s house, Suva

Fijian People

The locals    

If you can stay in a village as this is the most direct way to meet fellow Fijians and learn about their culture, customs and lifestyle. “Village Life” is wonderful and will make you appreciate what you have back home.

The Indo Fijians

It’s no exaggeration to say that in some parts of Fiji it looks like you have landed in India. The people that we met were descended from 5th & 6th generations of laboring Indians that arrived in Fiji more than a century ago.

village fijiTema’s Village, Suva

fiji deaf communityFijian Deaf Students, University of the South Pacific, Suva

Fiji Travel Tips

  • Plan ahead of time – Transport services do not run on time
  • Accept that everything you buy will be more expensive – Tourists are usually asked double the price
  • Unplug from Social Media – The internet is very slow and expensive
  • Be aware of touts – Make sure taxis have a meter
  • It’s hot and very humid! Expect cold showers when staying in budget accommodation.
  • If the A/C is on, it will be freezing – When getting on a Coach bring a jacket.
  • Don’t be a tourist, mingle with the locals – As expected, food is more expensive in touristic areas
  • Accept their culture – If you hear a “psst” or “kissing your teeth” noise, don’t be offended. The gesture is often used to tell the bus/taxi driver to stop or to call someone you know.







The Best Time to Visit Fiji

The Weather: it’s hot and humid, regardless the season. Around 31c (88F) during the Summer months, November to April, and 29c (84F) during the Winter months, May to October. We stayed from end of March to the beginning of May. As it was the beginning of the high season, there weren’t many tourists around.

Transportation in Fiji

Transportation prices in Fiji are a little dubious, as often people charge what they feel like. We found that buses are actually more accurate, taxis will depend on the distances and with coaches you have to be careful not be scammed.

Bus Fares – FJD$0.70/ USD$0.35/GBP£0.25
Taxi Fares – During the day start at FJD$1.50/ USD$0.70/GBP£0.55
At night taxi fares start at FJD$2/ USD$0.90/GBP£0.70

Coach
Suva to Pacific Harbour – FJD$4/USD$2/GBP£1.50
Pacific Harbour to Sigatoka – FJD$5/ USD$2.50/GBP£1.50
Suva to Nadi – It varies but people should never buy a ticket for more than FJD$17/ USD$8/GBP£6

*prices shown are according to our visit in 2015

Fiji Points of Interest

Nadi

  • See the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple
  • Visit Port Denarau Shopping Centre & Marina. Get the yellow “Dollar Bus” from Nadi for $1 and watch the Daily Performances. Kava ceremony at 6.00pm & Meke Dance at 6.30pm. On Saturdays there is a Firewalking show. Also, Port Denarau is the point of departure to Fiji’s Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands.

hindu nadi templeSri Siva Subramaniya Temple, Nadi

Lautoka

  • See the Vuda Point Marina
  • Visit the Saturday Market
  • Eat at the Blue Ginger Café

Sigatoka

  • Explore the Sand Dunes, where 300 years ago the Lapita People arrived in Fiji. Planting your own tree is also possible, but booking in advance is required.

fiji tourism sigatokaSand Dunes, Sigatoka

Pacific Harbour

  • Stay at the Arts Village. During Low Season rooms are at FJD$35/USD$16/GBP£13 per night/per person.
  • Watch Meke Dancing & Firewalk Show. Check for low season, sometimes the show does not go ahead if there isn’t enough people, 8 people minimum.

Note: It’s good entertainment. There is a brief story about Firewalking, Meke and Village Life. BUT don’t expect real firewalking, hot stones only.

fiji traditional meke danceMeke Dance, Pacific Harbour

Yasawa Islands

  • Explore the Yasawa Islands on a budget. The best way to travel around the islands is buying a “Bula Pass” from Awesome Adventures. But if like us you just want a sneak peak of the islands, just buy a return ticket.

Suva

  • Hike Colo-i-Suva Forest Park
  • Explore Suva like a local. Stay for a few nights, enjoy the Fijian hospitality and get to know the locals.

fiji tourismColo-i-suva, Suva

Taveuni

fiji garden islandWaiyevo, Taveuni

Accommodation in Fiji

We deliberately left “accommodation” out of the article because apart from the Yasawa Islands and one night at the Arts Village we didn’t pay for accommodation. During our stay we volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School in Suva, where accommodation and food was provided and were lucky to have met so many people from the Deaf Community whom were willing to let us stay with them.

When looking for accommodation in Fiji, we strongly recommend booking with Airbnb. It’s safe, affordable and clean. Use our discount code and get $25/£30 off your own booking.

fijian peopleNaqara, Taveuni

Before arriving in Fiji, we didn’t have expectations. We were delighted for the opportunity to volunteer with Deaf children but little did we know we would end up staying for two and half months.

This country touched our hearts; it’s just one of those places that sucks you in, that makes you forget about time. The relaxed pace of life is striking, and we really forgot about time, week days and weekends. It was all about friends, family, food and enjoying life. Here people think little of social media, tv, or going out. It’s all about happiness and living each day as it comes. These people live for their loved ones.

Our visit wasn’t about relaxing on a hammock (which there is nothing wrong with!) We actually had a few evenings enjoying the sunset and sunrise while in the Yasawa Islands and Taveuni but Fiji was more of an unexpected journey.
These people are real, beautiful, kind and the warm welcome full of smiles was enough to leave us enchanted by this little gem in the South Pacific.
Pack your bags and go! We can reassure you the hardest part is to leave.

Further reading: Lonely Planet Fiji (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Fiji. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Is there anything else you would like to know about Fiji?

fiji points of interest and travel tips

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fiji islands travel blogThank-You for Reading

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Getting the Indian Visa in Kathmandu

By Telma | 30 December 2016 | India | Travel Advice

Getting the Indian Visa in Kathmandu wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. We had envisaged long queues, communication breakdown, answered questions, filling the form wrongly, stress, etc. But everything ran smoothly.
Perhaps it helped that we were staying in Nepal for three months, so we did go to the Embassy to enquire about the process beforehand. Once we left with all the answers, we knew that getting the Indian tourist visa in Kathmandu was going to be fairly easy.
There is no way around it, unless you are a Bhutan or Nepali national, all other nationalities MUST obtain a visa before arriving in India.
Things change – prices go up and new requirements are implemented. At the time of writing (December 2016), this was the process for obtaining the Indian Visa in Kathmandu.

Please note: Not to be confused with the eTourist Visa (eTV), which the citizen of 113 countries are entitled to apply for a visa prior their arrival, for visits not exceeding 30 days. For more information, please click here.



Directions to the India Embassy in Kathmandu

From Thamel is about fifteen minutes walk heading north just off Lazimpath.

Address:
Embassy of India
,
336 Kapurdhara Marg,
Kathmandu, Nepal

Application hours are from Monday to Friday between 9.30am-12pm.

location of indian embassy

What you need to know before applying for the Indian tourist visa in Kathmandu (VT):

  • Allow 8-10 days as a minimum
  • Don’t apply for the tourist visa during the festivals or holidays in India (Either the office will be closed or the waiting time can take up to 1 month)
  • Bring the right amount of money  to pay for the visa in Nepalese Rupees
  • Apply in person at the India Embassy. Paying an agency will cost you twice as much
  • Don’t waste money on getting new passport pictures if these do not match the official requirements
  • Buying flights/bus tickets to India doesn’t necessary mean that you will obtain a visa nor will it speed up the process
  • Your passport MUST be valid for a period of six months or more before entering India
  • The visa starts from the date of issue, not from the date of arrival in India. So do not apply for the visa once you arrive in Nepal as that will be a waste of days from the visa itself

indian embassy

It requires 3 visits to obtain the Indian Tourist Visa. Let us tell you how we got ours:

Because we had time to spare in Kathmandu we chose to apply for the visa in person and visited the India Embassy nearly one month before applying for the visa as we wanted to know the official requirements, the waiting time and the costs. We couldn’t believe how much Thomas had to pay for his visa, a whopping Rs17,500/USD$155/GBP£125. Whereas I had to pay Rs4,850/USD$40/GBP£35 because I have a Portuguese Passport. 
Paying an agency was never an option, but we did pay for some help on filling out the form. During our first and second visit four people got their application rejected due to some errors. As we didn’t want that to happen to us, we opted on getting some guidance from the shop next to the embassy.
The staff are helpful and very quick; they have been doing it for years and know exactly the correct way of filling out the form. Getting some guidance and paying a small fee for it was better than having the visa process rejected. It saved us time and stress.
Showing that you have purchased a ticket to India before getting the Visa does not help you obtaining the Visa and it can still be rejected. Actually, they suggest only booking the tickets after the Visa is issued. This can be an expensive decision as the Visa starts on the day of issue. You must buy an outward ticket from Nepal within a few days or weeks after receiving it from the embassy.

indian visa in kathmandu




How to apply for the Indian Visa in Kathmandu:

  • Knowing the hostel/guesthouse address in India is an advantage
  • “No Religion” it’s not an option! 
  • “Unemployed” it’s also not an option! You must provide your Employer’s Address, but if like us, you don’t have a job back home, the last employer will suffice. I guess it’s a reassurance you make ends meet to travel.

Next door, at the shop, they will:

  • Download and fill in the form for you – Cost: NPR500
  • Take 2 passport pictures (Size 2-inch x 2-inch, 51mm x 51mm/white background) – Cost: NPR250
  • Make a copy of your passport front page and the Nepali visa

At the Embassy

Simple steps for obtaining the Indian Visa and Documents needed:

  • Application Form
  • 1 picture, 2×2 white background
  • Passport
  • Copy of Passport (first page)
  • Copy of Nepali Visa and/or last Indian Visa

There are 3 visits: 1st day, 5th working day and 6th working day

On the 1st day, after getting everything ready next door, we waited for our turn. Once they called our number, we handed in our application forms, paid and got a receipt with a stamp date, for the second visit, on the 5th working day. (First visit from 9.30am-12.30pm only)

On the 5th day, the lady told us the Visas got approved. We left our Passports at the Embassy and received the same receipt as day 1, with a second stamp date, for the 6th working day.
(Second visit from 9.30am-12.30pm only)

On the 6th day, we collected our Passports with our Visas! (Third visit from 5.00 pm-5.30pm only)

That’s it…We both got our 3 months India Visa!

For more information, check the India Visa online website.

application for the indian visa

Further reading: Lonely Planet India (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore India. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Have you ever applied for the Indian Visa before?

applying for the india visa in kathmandu

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Nepal: A Traveller’s Guide

By Telma | 1 December 2016 | Nepal | Travel Guides

Surrounded by land between India and Tibet, Nepal is a unique, eclectic brew of her neighboring cultures. The land is a dividing line between ancient, historic, civilization and cultures that in their mystery and passion are often associated with a more spiritual way of life and therefore alluring to many travelers seeking an alternative lifestyle and inner contemplation. At the same time the diversity of ethnic groups within Nepal is often complicated for a westerner to understand before they immerse themselves in the sensual experience that is Nepal. It is a staggeringly beautiful country with mountain, jungle, country, and urban landscapes to explore, all in rich techni-color to delight and enrich the soul.

The history of Nepal makes it a unique place that draws visitors from all over the world every year. Often people assume that Nepal is just an extended part of India, but it’s not. Nepali are very proud of their culture, diversity, its people, heritage sites, religions and its unique attractions.

Nepal is best known for having the world’s largest mountain range; the Himalayas. This range provides eight of the ten world’s tallest mountains and the highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest reaching 8848 meters high. Other unique treasures are the biggest pilgrimage Buddhist Stupa, Kumari– The Living Goddess and Lumbini – birthplace of the Buddha.

nepal tourist attractions



General Information for First Time Travellers in Nepal

Places of Worship: Always walk clockwise around the Buddhist stupas, shrines and mani walls. Remove shoes before entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple/sanctuary. In some Hindu temples people cannot enter using any leather goods, or as a non-Hindu entering will not be possible at all.

Greetings: People are not thanked as often as in the Western world. Don’t be surprised if you never hear “Thank you”, “Please” or “Excuse me”. But learning the basics would be hugely appreciated:
Hello, Goodbye: Namaste
Thank you: Dhanyebaad
I’m sorry, excuse me: Maph garnus

Shopping: Haggling is very common amongst the travellers but try to be fair. It should never be a cause of an argument. If not happy with the price, just walk away. Remember that Rs20/USD$0.20/GBP£0.15 for Nepali people can make a huge difference, but when converted onto our own currency might add up just a few cents.

Health: Travellers’ diarrhoea often happens when travelling in Nepal. But majority people get an upset stomach. Don’t be paranoid and enjoy the local food. Don’t drink tap water, avoid ice cubes and brush your teeth with bottled water.
Hiring a Guide in Nepal is very common as this is a great way of getting to know the ins and outs of places. Also there is no shame on hiring a Porter either as having someone to carry your backpack while trekking is actually helping towards their family, as Porters are some of the poorest in Nepal.

Packing for Nepal: Pack light. Depending on the season and the activities, bringing a pair of trekking boots it is a good option. If visiting during the colder months (November to February), the temperatures in Kathmandu are just above zero degrees, so thermal layers are recommended. An umbrella or raincoat is a must during the rainy season (June to September).

Begging is sensitive matter and it’s very common in Nepal, especially around the main religious temples and shrines. It is heartbreaking and impossible to ignore and Westerners are expected to give money. From my experience, I never give money, because I don’t think it will solve anything, actually I feel that giving money to beggars will only encourage it. There are a lot of homeless people around town, when the time was right we would usually approach and ask if they wanted to eat. So buying food instead of giving money was an option. (Not to be confused with the women who are clutching one or two children and ask you to buy food at a designated store of their choice. This is a scam.)

Outdoor Activities & Trekking: Never short of options, Nepal offers a wide range of experiences – nature tours, pilgrim tours, white-water-rafting, kayaking, canoeing, jungle safaris, paragliding, bungee jumping, zip-lining, mountain biking, and the list goes on; seriously you name it! The country has it all.
When it comes to trekking options, the list is endless too, from expeditions to high altitude treks, or simple easy treks.

Overall costs: The life in Nepal is minimalist. Although ideal but not always feasible, travelling on a shoestring budget, sleeping in shared dorms and surviving on a Nepali diet, people can easily live on Rs500-800 a day, including meals and accommodation. But this is not for everyone.
The “tourist prices” are disputable, often the prices of accommodation are the same as a meal and the same as the local bus on journeys for over 6 hours. There isn’t much discrepancy.
Average costs between Rs500-Rs800/USD$8/GBP£7.50.

street sellers of Nepal

Do I need a Visa to Visit Nepal?

Rules have changed over the years and now people can simply get a visa-on-arrival (VOA) at the airport. Visa requirements are to have a valid visa for 6 months or more; 1 passport picture (white/light background).

At Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, upon arrival tourists can get the following visas:
15 days – USD$25
30 days – USD$40
90 days – USD$100

Although it says that payments can only be accepted in cash (US Dollars, Euro, Pound Sterling, Nepal Rupees, etc), we paid our visas by card.

street seller nepal

When is the best time to visit Nepal?

The best time to visit Nepal is between September to November and March to May. The weather is changing dramatically, so it’s becoming difficult to predict, but people who visit outside the seasons still have a great time. Nepal has a typical monsoonal two-season year. There is the dry season from October to May and the wet season from June to September.

The best time to go trekking is from late September to December, when the weather is clear and dry; and from March to May, during Spring when flowers are in bloom.
When we arrived, late September, it was raining on and off, but had a few warm days. Towards the end of November it was getting cold, I mean really cold. Around 6-8 degrees during the evenings and nights. Who would have thought!

Personal Note: Before travelling to Nepal it’s always good to know the dates of any Festivals as the whole infrastructure of the country can be affected! Offices, shops and restaurants might be closed, there will be shortage of transportation and buses can be booked-up.

So planning in advance is encouraged to avoid disappointment and frustration in finding your bus is not going to be arriving! Travelling in Nepal during Dasain (also known as Dashera), can be a little tricky. This is Nepal’s biggest annual festival, stretching for over fifteen days. Cities will be quieter than usual as people are away with their families. The best way to describe it is to compare it to the Christmas period in the western world.

The People of Nepal

The population of Nepal is extremely diverse and highly complex. With over 26 million people, Nepal is made up of over 125 different caste/ethnic groups. Meeting them all is nearly impossible, but while in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and our trek to Everest Base Camp we came across a few.
From left to right:
Top: Sadhu, Tamang, Terai
Bottom: Female Porter, Newari, Sherpa

nepal and its people







Places to Visit in Nepal

Nepal is well known for its trekking routes and highest mountains peaks, but don’t be too hasty. The country has a lot more to offer. Don’t leave without exploring…

Kathmandu
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites, historical monuments, local markets, traditional villages and get to know the locals.

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Thamel
  • Swayambhunath Stupa
  • Pashupatinath
  • Bhaktapur
  • Taumadhi Tole
  • Dattatraya Square

people at Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Pokhara
Pokhara is located 200km (125 mi) west from Kathmandu. Its spectacular scenery, healthy food choices, laid-back atmosphere and close-up mountain views, has everything an adventurous soul can wish for.

backpacking pokhara travel

Lumbini
Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Lumbini is the first place to be visited by those embarking on a Buddhist pilgrimage tour. A visit to Maya Devi Temple, the birth spot of the Buddha, is a must-see. Other wonderful monuments are the World Peace Pagoda and several Monasteries that have been built in the area as an homage to Lord Buddha.

temple in Lumbini Maya Devi

Check our articles Exploring Kathmandu: A Chaotic Little Adventure and Pokhara: A Relaxed Pace of Life for more inspiration.

Trekking to Everest Base Camp

Nepal has innumerable trekking trails, enough for everyone’s age, fitness levels and pockets. People often choose to trek around Annapurna Mountain Range, which is incredibly beautiful and easily accessed by Pokhara.

But we discovered that trekking to Everest Base Camp isn’t just a Himalayan adventure but a cultural experience. The history behind the conquest of the highest mountain in the world, its unique people and traditions, the journey and the landing one of the most dangerous airports in the world, was enough for us to accept the challenge, often dreamed by many.
Whichever trekking route people chose; they will not be disappointed with the best views of the Himalayas.

Check our post here on Trekking to Everest Base Camp Independently.

the himalayas to everest base camp

Without a doubt, Nepal is a land of everlasting fascination for ancient history, a variety of unique cultures and people, breathtaking scenery and some of the best walking trails in the world.
Our time in Nepal was remarkable from the people we met to the cultural experiences that we gained. The plan was to visit for one month but we fell in love with the country very quickly and stayed for nearly three months.

Nepal “once is not enough” – Naturally Nepal

Further reading: Lonely Planet Nepal (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Nepal. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Have we convinced you to visit Nepal yet?

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Kathmandu Travel Guide: A Chaotic Little Adventure

By Telma | 18 November 2016 | Nepal | Travel Guides

Travelling in Kathmandu, can be a wonderful yet exhausting experience. And the truth is, people will either love it or hate it. Falling in love with the city was easy; the warm welcome from the locals, the smiles, the hustle and bustle was enough to get us hooked. Choosing to stay for nearly three months was without doubt, a good decision. Having Davendra & Pramila (a Deaf couple, co-owners of Kantipur Hotel) waiting for us was a bonus, as we knew that staying with them and their family, would give us the opportunity to eat traditional food, be advised on where to go and what to see and most important of all would enable us to immerse ourselves in the Nepali culture and interact with the locals.
Prior to our arrival we had no guides, maps or plans. And that is exactly how we like to travel; considering spending longer in a place, getting to know it and its people. Basically, travelling with a purpose, rather than ticking off experiences.

Note: All the information below is based on our own experiences.



Kathmandu Travel Guide

Kathmandu Valley

There are three major towns in Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Kathmandu is the capital and as expected, is the busiest of them all. Kathmandu old city is chaotic, the streets are buzzing with the sights and sounds of cars, trucks, bikes, animals and people filling the narrow streets and lanes. The background noises of bicycle bells, motorbike engines, religious music, car horns, squares packed with timeless temples and monuments, the sights, the smells of incense, spices, sewage and fumes, makes it an amazing city to visit and a thrilling worthwhile experience.

what to see in kathmandu

General Information for first time travellers to Kathmandu

The pollution and the dust in Kathmandu are high, especially during the dry season. We would always wear a face mask when walking around town. At first we thought it would look odd but soon realised that the locals also wear it.

Carrying toilet paper and baby wipes was a life saver in many situations. Only the restaurants in touristic areas will have toilet paper. To be honest the toilets are so bad that we would usually not drink water when we were out and about, so we wouldn’t need to go to the toilet!

Waking up early and leaving the hostel around 8-9am was the best time to explore Kathmandu when it was “quiet”. Traffic gets crazy as the day goes by.

There are several power cuts during the day. Some hostels will be powered with a backup generator if need be. Although they gave us a “schedule” of the power-cut times, more often than not it would happen outside those hours. The frustration was equal regarding Internet connection. It is very slow. The best thing we did was to buy a Ncell SIM card.

We were always very cautious of children around temples, we never gave them money, because we knew many others would start begging. Sadhus, known by Holy Man, demanded money when we took pictures of them or with them. Many are simply beggars and con men. A genuinely Sadhu will never ask or beg for money.

Crossing a road can be a frightening experience for a newbie. Observing how the locals did it helped enormously. In no time we were crossing the streets of Kathmandu like a PRO. Also hopping on a rickshaw was an adventure.

During our stay we never had any problems regarding safety. I (Telma) walked around town a few times on my own and felt safe. Nepali people are nice, warm and very welcoming. Yes, in tourist areas there will be people stalking you, offering to be a guide for the day and charging money if you take pictures of them. Just say “No, thank you” and walk away. Or like us, just keep walking, don’t engage with them. Always worked! They might follow you for a minute, but no longer than that.

Sightseeing in Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu City, Patan and Bhaktapur) can be a little bit expensive these days, when starting adding the costs. After the 2015 earthquake the number of tourists visiting Nepal might have decreased but the tourist sites increased their entrance fees.

Our best tip: When visiting Nepal, try and adapt to the Nepali lifestyle and its culture as soon as you arrive in Kathmandu. You will see things that you don’t agree with, that will make you upset or even disgusted. If you are not happy, leave. Simple as that. Arriving with a Western attitude is firstly, a waste of time and energy, marking you out as disrespectful. Secondly, it is simply not worth it. Don’t try and change a culture. Adapt, immerse yourself and be positive. You will enjoy the experience much more.

general information about kathmandu

How to Get Started in Kathmandu

Get a map of Kathmandu. Second-hand book stores sell maps for Rs300/USD$2.50/GBP£2.30. Or like us, just ask the receptionist at the hostel, they might have a spare one. The narrow lanes and streets are very confusing at first. It took as a few days to get around it.

Stay connected by purchasing a SIM Card from Ncell provider. The card costs Rs250/USD$2.30/GBP£1.90.
You need – a copy of your passport’s front page, the Nepali Visa and a picture. At the store, they will fill in the form for you and set up the SIM card. Data costs – 1 GB for Rs1000/USD$9.30/GBP£7.60 or 2GB for RS1600/USD$14/GBP£12.

You don’t have to hire a Guide. If you have time, explore the city by yourself. It’s a chaotic little adventure. If you don’t have time and are considering hiring a guide, I suggest asking the hostel for good references. A Guide can cost up to Rs2000/USD$18/GBP£15 a day, less than Rs1000/USD$9/GBP£7 you might as well take a guide book instead. Remember you get what you pay for.

If looking for a Deaf Guide, we suggest:

  • Suresh Shahi. Email: suresh_sh71@hotmail.com/Facebook: Suresh Deaf
    (Areas: Kathmandu Valley & Pokhara/Hiking to Annapurna)
  • Chheeri Sherpa. Email: chheeri@yahoo.com. (Areas: Hiking at the Sagarmatha National Park – Everest Region)

(Both Deaf Guides also work with Hearing people/groups.)

places to visit kathmandu

Kathmandu Transportation

You name it: taxis, rickshaws, buses, tuktuks, bicycles, motorbikes, and yet the best way to explore Kathmandu is on foot. That’s how we spent our days in Kathmandu, wandering around and getting lost.

The variety of transportation in town is overwhelming and we took it slowly by getting used to walking in town from early morning to lunch time. It is always better to experience the roads getting busier as the day goes by, rather than stepping outside for the first time at 2pm. We had to be careful when crossing the roads, there are little rules for pedestrians, or I dare to say none. Any means of transportation will take over both by the left or right side. Leaving you with no choice but actually thank the fact the beeping happens, so you know when NOT to move!

We mainly walked and caught the local buses. The fare is Rs15/USD$0.15/GBP£0.10. My advice is to have the right amount, if you hand it a Rs20 note you will not get the change back. But to be honest, please do not argue back for the sake of 5 rupees! Taxis are a rip-off and not even worth it. Get on a rickshaw and enjoy the ride! The prices will vary depending on distances, but from the old city to Thamel shouldn’t cost more than Rs250/USD$2/GBP£1.50.

busy roads in kathmandu

Accommodation in Kathmandu

The most well-known area that people choose to stay is Thamel, especially for first timers and for those who are stopping in Kathmandu for a day or so before heading to Pokhara or Lukla, to start their trekking journeys. There is accommodation for everyone’s budget, from Rs250/USD$2/GBP£1.50. for a dorm bed or private rooms for Rs800/USD$7/GBP£6.

We stayed at Hotel Kantipur located in North Thamel area called Paknajol. There are no luxuries but the staff are fantastic. Also, the co-owners of the Hostel are Deaf so that was another good reason to stay. We were welcomed with open arms and soon felt part of the family. It was a great way to get to know the locals.
Other recommendation is August Mountain Hotel for a cheaper option and faster internet. Some people avoid tourist areas, like Thamel, and a good choice is to stay around town is Jhochhe, Durbar Marg or Lazimpath.

Eating out in Kathmandu

There are restaurants serving Italian, Thai, Mexican and American food, but don’t expect it all to be authentic, only very few restaurants will serve excellent dishes. When eating local the food can be very greasy and the side effects of it will soon hit you hard, either by diarrhoea or loss of appetite! The majority of tourist restaurants, especially in Thamel, will charge 10% service charge and 13% VAT adding to the final bill. Depending on what you order and the costs, those charges can add up to Rs500/USD$4/GBP£3 extra. If you choose to eat local these charges can be avoided.

Dal Bhat is the national dish of rice, lentils and vegetables. If you are lucky to finding a restaurant who serves a good Nepali Set, the dish is just amazing. But when skimping for a cheap meal, the food can be very bland. The meal usually costs Rs400-500/USD$4/GBP£3 (vegetarian and non-vegetarian). Anything less than NPR400 I wouldn’t recommend, unless you have seen how it’s served, or have heard a recommendation from someone.

dal bhat and momo

Momo (generally speaking are dumplings) usually cost between Rs120-160/USD$1.50/GBP£1 per serve at 10 pieces (vegetarian, buffalo or chicken). You can eat it steamed or fried. Less than RS100 for momo I would be wary of the quality of the meat and its appearance (greasy). Paying RS200 or more for momo is a rip off. (although is still dirty cheap!)

If feeling a little daring with Traditional Food, we suggest Newari dishes, which consist of flattened rice, vegetables and roasted meat. Fruit can be found everywhere in Kathmandu. From bananas, apples, pears, oranges to mangos. It’s worth a try. Ask a local or at the hostel the prices per kilo. Some street sellers will try and charge you more. I had to ask the hostel staff to buy fruit because I couldn’t get fair prices. And always check the expiry date of products. We found some shops selling Snacks and Chocolates with expiry dates of one year earlier!

Our recommendation on good restaurants around Thamel:

  1. Electric Pagoda – Bar & Café (Sathghumti Road) and Or2K– For the best International dishes and fast wifi – service charge
  2. Yangling (is a Tibetan restaurant at the 7 Cornor Road), here you can eat the best Momo and Thenthuk (flat pasta, meat/vegetables in broth) – NO service charge
  3. North Field Café – service charge
  4. Namaste Café & Bar – service charge

the food people from kathmandu eat







What to See and Things to Do in Kathmandu

Kathmandu Durbar Square – This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one the major attractions of Kathmandu, despite some of the temples being destroyed during the 2015 earthquake and the high entrance fee. We were hugely disappointed with the fees and also because it looks like a normal square, where taxis and rickshaws are parked everywhere, there are beggars, sellers, etc. We thought the area would be protected from the chaos. Also the destruction is pretty visible, what was once a beautiful square filled with temples from the 15th century, some areas are now a pile of rubble.
The square is famous for Kumari Chowk (House of the Living Goddess).
Entry fee: Rs1000/USD$9/GBP£7 per person.

people walking at durbar square

Kathesimbhu Stupa – It’s the most popular Tibetan pilgrimage site in the old town. This is a 17th century copy of the famous Swayambhunath Stupa. The site is in between Thamel and Durbar Square, south of Thaihiti Tole.
Entry Fee: Free

kathmandu buddhist temple

Ason Tole, also known as Ason Chowk – It’s an old market square surrounded by temples and shrines. Jammed with buyers and sellers, vegetables, fruits, a variety of spices, dried food, etc. Ason Tole it’s not a tourist market but a local’s market. The three-storey Annapurna Temple can be found here. We walked past the market countless times.

market in kathmandu

Thamel – Thamel is the hustling and bustling tourist district. This area is filled with restaurants serving “international dishes”, backpackers hostels, souvenir shops, fake trekking gear, second-hand book stores and the odd man asking if you “want something?”, referring to hashish!
Shop until you drop! If like us you are on a long-term trip, there isn’t much you can buy apart from a few clothes, magnets or post cards. But if you are visiting and going back home afterwards, it’s your lucky chance to get hands on some beautifully handmade cashmere scarfs/blankets, jewellery, statuettes, carved-wood crafts, carpets, incense, oils, spices….and the list goes on. Get ready for those haggling skills, you will need it here. Some of the souvenirs are ridiculously expensive, and you will be paying the “tourist price”. Thamel is not a reflection of Nepal or Nepali culture, but is where people tend to spend majority of their time because of the variety of offer, the food and the nightlife, as there isn’t much you can do in the evenings outside Thamel.

the streets of thamel kathmandu

Swayambhunath Stupa, it’s a Buddhist temple and also known as the “Monkey Temple”, situated on the top of a hill, west of the city. Climb the full 365 steps to the top and enjoy the views of Kathmandu. As they name suggests, there are a lot of Monkeys around. Don’t be fooled, they are vicious and aggressive. We saw someone being attacked when getting close to them just to take a picture!
Entry fee: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50 per person

buddhist stupa in kathmandu

Pashupatinath & Boudhanath

We visited both in one go. People either visit Pashupatinath on the way to Boudhanath or vise-versa. From Kathmandu get the number 2 blue bus from Ratna Park (near Rani Pokhari, east side of town) to Boudhanath. The bus journey is Rs15/USD$0.15/GBP£0.10 but if you hand in a Rs20 note you will not get 5 rupees’ change. It’s not worth the argument.

Boudhanath Stupa – The Great Boudha is the largest stupa in Nepal and one of the largest in the World. This pilgrimage site is very important for Buddhists. Unfortunately, during the 2015 earthquake the stupa was massively damaged, and people can no longer walk around the edge, now only from the ground. It is really a beautiful site and worth a visit. Boudhanath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Entry fee: Rs250/USD$2.50/GBP£2 per person

Pashupatinath – Pashupatinath, located along Bagmati River, it is Nepal’s more important Hindu temple and it’s one of the most important Shiva temples on the subcontinent. The Bagmati is a holy river and it’s used as a cremation site for the Hindus. We saw two bodies being cremated at the riverside ghats (these are stone-paved cremation platforms). The smell isn’t very pleasant but I believe it is really an experience. I am not sure, but I think the price has increased lately because travellers would flock there to take pictures, treating it like a tourist site. At the end of the day it is like tourists in our country going to our cemeteries and taking pictures of our funerals… I guess we wouldn’t like it either.
Here you can find Sadhus, known as Holy Man. The Sadhus of Nepal are wandering Holy Man who have chosen to live their life apart of the edges of society to focus on their own spiritual practices.
Entry fee: Rs1000/USD$9/GBP£7 per person

nepal cremation site

Kathmandu Valley: A Day Trip

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 8 miles/12km from Kathmandu. The town is beautifully built in a blend of dark carved wood, pink bricks and copper. It was like stepping into a medieval town: traditional art and architecture, historical monuments and temples, people producing pottery and craft works. Bhaktapur early dates go back to the 9th century but it wasn’t until the 17th that much of the town’s architecture started taking its place.

Bhaktapur is much cleaner and less busy than Kathmandu, which was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t even wear our face masks, so that was a bonus! There are no rickshaws, less motorbikes and taxi drivers around. It was so beautiful and tranquil compared to Kathmandu that we went there twice during our stay in Nepal. It is really a fascinating little town to wander in and it’s only one hour away from Kathmandu. The lack of traffic, walking around old temples and shrines makes the perfect destination away from the chaos. Make sure it is on your itinerary. We had a very pleasant day around town, the people were warm and welcoming.
How to get Bhaktapur to Kathmandu – Get the express bus from Ratna Park (near Rani Pokhari, east side of town) direct to Bhaktapur, cost per ticket is Rs20/USD$0.18/GBP£0.15.

A simple guide would be to start off at Durbar Square, then Taumadhi Tole for its five-storey Nyatapola Temple, then Pottery Square for a tea break at Pottery Bar for some roof top views of the square, and finally make your way to Dattatraya Square, which is the oldest part of town.

Entry Fees for the Touristic Sites:
•   Durbar Square – Rs1500/USD$14/GBP£11 per person
•   Taumadhi Tole – Free
•   Dattatraya Square – Free
•   Pottery Square – Free

hindu culture of nepal

pottery square bhaktapur

man relaxing in nepal

People from all around the world visit Nepal and stay in Kathmandu a few days before heading to Pokhara or Lukla with plans of trekking the Annapurna Circuit or to the Everest Base Camp, but we highly recommend exploring the city a little longer. Not only because Kathmandu needs tourism but also because it is really an eye-opening experience.

If you can: stay longer, meet the locals – whether by volunteering or just talking to the staff at your accommodation; try different food; spend an afternoon observing the daily life and most of all have a positive attitude towards the culture and the people.

Kathmandu might not be for everyone, but is without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience.

Special Thanks:

We would like to thank Davendra and Pramila for their hospitality during our stay in Kathmandu. Their generosity, friendship, kind gestures, making sure we were always happy, and countless nights chatting, made our stay in Nepal much more enjoyable. Straight after meeting them we felt part of the family. We are forever grateful for everything they did for us. Other people that we would also like to thank, in no particular order are: Dipawali Sharmacharya, Kalpana Bajaracharya, Suresh Shahi, Chheeri Sherpa.

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

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5 Day Itinerary for Hong Kong

By Telma and Thomas | 5 September 2016 | Hong Kong | Travel Guides

Creating a 5 Day Itinerary for Hong Kong was easy as we knew that staying longer would give us the opportunity to explore Hong Kong better. Majority of Hong Kong city guides suggests the most touristic parts of the city, leaving a lot of beautiful and interesting places out.
I (Telma) was lucky to have suggestions and advices of my two good friends, Jacky and Kit. Jacky is Hong Kong Chinese, having moved to London for over 18 years ago, Kit is a “BBC”, British Born Chinese, and visits Hong Kong regularly for work. So I knew I was in good hands! 
Their guidance helped us a lot because Hong Kong is a very big city, and not wanting to waste any time during our nine days’ stay, we wanted to make the most of it.
If you would like to know how to get started, read our Hong Kong Travel Guide on a Budget.
English is widely spoken, but we didn’t expect everyone to speak. There were times we had to rely solely on body language, sign language, miming and pointing. And Thomas is very good at it. It actually amazes me how well he can communicate when we are surrounded by people that do not speak our language! That’s just amazing, right? Oh the perks of knowing Sign Language!
So, we had an itinerary, a map, a local SIM card and we were ready to rock and roll!

Hong Kong Itinerary

The best way to explore Hong Kong is dividing the city in four areas. This way you can focus in each area on different days, and also spend quality time roaming around, take pictures, observe, and enjoy what this fantastic city has to offer. The four areas are:
Kowloon PeninsulaHong Kong IslandLantau IslandNew Territories

Our 5 Day Itinerary is about the best of Hong Kong by areas, how to get around and some useful tips.

things to do Hong Kong



What to See and Do in Hong Kong

Day 1 – Lantau Island

  • Ngong Ping Cable Car
  • Ngong Ping Village & Piazza
  • Po Lin Monastery
  • Big Buddha
  • Tai O Fishing Village

Visit the temple street market in Yau Ma Tei (Temple street market – only open at night – any night)

How to get there: In order to get to Lantau Island, you need to get the train to Tung Chung. Get the cable car to Ngong Ping. Make sure you arrive early to avoid the crowd and huge queues. Once you have visited all the places mentioned above, get the bus 21 down to Tai O Fishing Village. The ticket costs HKD$6/USD$0.70/GBP£0.50 and you can use the Octopus Card. At Tai O get on those little boats for HKD$25/USD$3/GBP£2, and enjoy the scenery, the houses above water and the sunset.
From Tai O, get the bus back to Tung Chung station directly and take the train to Yau Ma Tei for the temple street market. The local food includes ‘hot pot rice’, and deep fried oyster cake. Worth trying!

hong kong islands
lantau island buddha
things to do in hong kong
lantau island monastery

Day 2 – New Territories

How to get there: Start early in the morning. Get off at Sha Tin station and walk to Sha Tin Wai. We did this walk by mistake and got to see the locals dancing and exercise. Plus, the walk is very nice.
Go up the Monastery and be prepared for 430 steps in a concrete path uphill. Come back down the hill and make your way to Che Kung Temple, the museum is very close to the Temple.
Make sure you get to Diamond Hill station in plenty of time, The Nunnery closes at 4.30pm.

monastery hong kong

Day 3 – Northeast New Territories

  • Tai Mei Tuk
  • Sam Mun Tsai
  • Sam Kung Temple

How to get there: Make sure you have the morning and afternoon free for this. Get the train early morning to Tai Po Market. When you arrive get the 20C mini-bus and your last stop should be Tai Mei Tuk. Hire a bike from the village; this should cost around HKD$70/USD$9/GBP£7 for around 3-4 hours. Cycle and enjoy the scenery, the local villages, have lunch with the locals and visit the temples. Your cycling itinerary for the day should be Tai Mei Tuk – Sam Mun Tsai – Tai Mei Tuk.

outside hong kong

Day 4 – Hong Kong Island

  • Tsim Sha Tsui
  • Peak Tram
  • Victoria Peak
  • Mid-Levels Escalator
  • Lan Kwai Fong (Soho)
  • Tsim Sha Tsui – Symphony of Lights (at night)

How to get there: In the morning stop at Tsim Sha Tsui for pictures of the iconic buildings at Hong Kong Island. Here you can find Chungking Mansions, but don’t be fooled by the name. It’s just cheap accommodation, from Hostels to Guesthouses, aiming at the budget travellers.
 Get to Central Station and queue for the Peak Tram. Have lunch at The Peak. The scenery is amazing!
 Get the bus down town and experience that crazy ride going downhill.
Visit the Mid-Levels Escalators. Have a coffee or tea around Lan Kwai Fong.
Finish your day going back to Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront (be there by 8pm for the Laser show.
 Experience the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong (next to the mid-level escalator).

the view from Victoria Peak

Day 5 – Kowloon

  • Mong Kok
  • Sham Shui Po for Apliu Street

Tip: Spend the day exploring this area. You will find cheap markets, all sort of electronic stuff, shopping centres, street food. Walk around at night to experience the colourful billboards in every street.

famous hong kong



Hong Kong Day Trips

From the original plan, we missed out on Sai Kung Country Park and Ping Shan Heritage Trail. These places require two full days, which we didn’t have. The jet lag was an awful experience and the first two days was really hard for us. We kept postponing a few plans for the following days and ended up not having time for everything.

  • Sai Kung Country Park
  • Ping Shan Heritage Trail

How to get there: The trail is right at the edge of Hong Kong with the border of China, it will take an hour and a half to get there. People usually spend 4-5 hours hiking. A bottle of water and wearing comfortable walking/hiking footwear are a must. The area is very traditional Chinese and has the “old” Hong Kong look.

Suggestions on how to plan an itinerary for Hong Kong:

  • Plan extra time for the arrival and departure days, traffic to/from the airport can be an issue
  • Most probably you will suffer from jet lag, so don’t be hard on yourself, take a morning/afternoon off
  • Book your accommodation around Kowloon area, it’s close to everything you need and it is much cheaper than other areas in town. We always book our rooms through Airbnb. Get $25/£30 discount on your booking using our code.
    Book an extra day or two and fit the above itinerary in between
  • Visit Macau
  • Read our Hong Kong Travel Guide on a Budget

Special Thanks:

Our trip in Hong Kong would have not been possible without the suggestions, advice & tips from Jacky Cheung and Kit Lee.

Further reading: Lonely Planet Hong Kong (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Hong Kong. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Have we forgotten anything? Are you planning on visiting Hong Kong?

the best of hong kong itinerary

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.