Fact-Checked NEPAL | 10 Things To Know Before You Go

1.  Kathmandu is equal latitude as Tampa and Delhi and is further south than Cairo and Los Angeles.  The altitude of Kathmandu is only 4600ft (1400 meters).  It rarely gets cold enough to snow [it has only snowed once since 1944 (in 2007)]

Kathmandu Latitude Map

Map showing the latitude of Kathmandu being approximately equal to Tampa, Florida; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Dubai.

2.  Hinduism is the predominant religion (81% of the population) and Buddhism is a small (9% of population) but prominent minority.  The remainder of the population follow Islam, Yumaism (a sort of blend of animism, Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism), and Christianity.

Pie chart showing the various religions in Nepal.

Pie chart showing the various religions in Nepal.

3.  Even if you don’t go hiking (trekking) there are still plenty of things to do.  Kathmandu Valley has the densest concentration with regards to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Kathmandu Valley holds 7 World Heritage Cultural sites at a radius of 15 kilometers.  They include Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath Stupa, Boudhanath Stupa, Basantapur Durbar Square (aka Kathmandu Durbar Square), Bhaktapur  Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, and Changu Narayan temple.

boudha ktm nepal kathmandu

Boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu

4.  You can go on safaris in Nepal see if you’re lucky enough to spot tigers, rhinos, elephants, and more.  The two most famous spots are Chitwan National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the less visited Bardia National Park.  Both are in the lowlands (aka terai) of the south and west.  Chitwan is heavily touristed but not difficult to access from Kathmandu; Bardia is in a remote region of western Nepal.

courtesy of exploringtourism.com

courtesy of exploringtourism.com

5.  Nepal is a mecca for adventure sports and activities.  Adrenalin junkies flock to the city of Pokhara for activities such as: some of the best white-water rafting in the world; one of the world’s fastest/longest ziplines; one of the world’s hightest bungee jumps; paragliding; hang-gliding; ultra-light flights; and more.

The Royal Trek (Pokhara, Nepal)

The Royal Trek (Pokhara, Nepal)

6.  Nepal has a per capita income of around $1500/year.  Agriculture is the main source of income, making up 37% of the GDP and employing 70% of the people.  Rice is the main crop; other crops include wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane and oilseeds.  Livestock is another major source of income after agriculture.  Nepal exports knotted carpets, grain, leather goods, and clothing.  25% of people live below the poverty line (compared to 15% in the USA).

7.  Nepal has the only flag that is non-quadrilateral shaped.  There is some debate as to the symbolism of the flag.

8.  Nepal has a number of world records with Mount Everest being the highest point on the planet from sea-level at 29,035ft (8,850 m) to the Kali Gandaki gorge being (by some measures) the deepest gorge in the world.  Nepal is also home to the shortest man ever as verified by Guinness.

BJ in front of Mt. Everest

BJ in front of Mt. Everest

9.  Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was born in Lumbini, Nepal in approximately 490 BCE.

Signage at Lumbini

Signage at Lumbini

10.  Nepal ended its long-standing constitutional monarchy in June 2008 when King Gyanendra abdicated the throne.  He had come to power in 2001 after the tragic murder of his brother the king and his entire family in 2001. Nepal’s first ever president was chosen by parliament in July 2008.  Currently there are 139 political parties in Nepal.  Nepal had a successful (free & fair) election in November 2013 but the government is currently struggling to re-write their constitution.  The politics of Nepal do not affect tourists with the exception of periodic strikes (bandh) whereby many shops are closed.

Fact-Checked INDIA | Things to Know Before You Go

1.  India may overtake China as the most populous country in the world by 2028.

2.  Though India has three of the top ten largest cities in the world, it is predominantly rural.  70% of the population lives in rural communities [rural in India is defined as living in a town/village of less than 49,000 with a population density of less than 1000/mile2 (400km2)].  India is less densely populated than 32 countries (including Israel, South Korea, Maldives, or the Netherlands).

3.  India has more than 1000 languages.  There are 122 languages spoken by over 10,000 people and six languages (Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu) spoken by more than 50,000,000 people.  Hindi and English are the official languages but majority of Indians do not speak Hindi.

4.  India’s climatic zones range from the backwater canals of Kerela to the deserts of Rajasthan, to the rainforests of Assam to Mount Kanchenjunga standing at 8,598m (28,209 ft).  It has regions in 7 of the 8 major climatic zones (according to the Köppen Climate Classification System).

5.  India is the birthplace of many religions.  The four religions born in India—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism—are followed by 25% of the world’s population.  [Note: Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was born in Nepal, but he first spread his teachings in India]

6.  Cricket is, by far, the most popular sport in India.  If you want to connect to any boy or man in India, talk about cricket.  A quote by Pratiek Sparsh Samantara sums it up best: “Cricket is a religion in India… It is a game of the gods. Right from the day they’re born, babies are taught to worship their cricketers; and later when they’re grown up, they’re taught to vote for them in their countries’ legislatures. The game will never die out in this region, life would be unfathomable then! We wouldn’t have any clue what to talk to our neighbours about!”

7.  India has the 4th longest railway network (65,000km) in the world but carries more passengers than any other network (8 billion passengers per year).


8.  India has many academic achievements.  Nalanda was likely to be the first residential university in the world; Indians made significant contributions to calculus, trigonometry, and algebra.  The concept of zero as a number and place-holder along with the decimal system is also attributed to India.

9.  Before 1947, India’s borders included present-day Pakistan & Bangladesh.

India Pakistan Bangladesh

The boundaries of India before 1947 (when it included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh)

10.  India has 30 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (only 6 countries have more) including sites which we often take guests on our tours:  the Taj MahalFatehpur SikriAgra Fort,  Humayun’s Tomb, and more.

A Short Visit to Singapore (What you can do in 6 hours to 4 days!)

A Short Visit to Singapore (What you can do in 6 hours to 4 days!)

A Short Visit to Singapore (What you can do in 6 hours to 4 days!)

singapore If you are joining one of our tours to Bali, you will probably pass through Singapore, most likely arriving late at night.  You will have already made the choice of booking a flight the next day to Bali or spending a couple days in Singapore.  We’ll give some ideas for various lengths of stay.  First, however, a few things about this wonderful city!

As you’ll see below, it is truly the city of superlatives.  Here are some of the highlights.

Singapore's famous Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Singapore’s famous Marina Bay Sands hotel.

If you don’t want to stay the night in Singapore there are still options to see the city.  The easiest are the free city tours; they only has 2 hours but give you a nice introduction to the city.  The tours vary on the sites you visit and they leave at 9:00am, 11:30am, 2pm, and 4:30pm.  There is also a City Lights Tour that starts at 6:30pm.

The author of this article has some great ideas on seeing Singapore in a single day.  She advocates to not collect your luggage when you get off the plane.  It will then go to the “left baggage” office and be safely stored until you come collect it.  People do this all the time and it is very safe.  You can also store your bags at a bag-check near the taxi stand on the ground floor (outside the baggage claim area).

If you decide to stay in Singapore we have some wonderful suggestions.  We have personally visited & toured all these hotels (including most categories of rooms).  The links below will take you to a site to view and even book the hotel for a discounted rate (we use that site for all our hotel bookings).

If you stay at the airport, you have three options.

One is to sleep on the free lounge chairs throughout the airport.  The airport is extraordinarily clean and safe and quite quiet at night.  It’s not a bad option for those trying to save as much money as possible.

The second option will only work if you book at least 4-6 weeks ahead of time.  It is the Ambassador Transit Hotel.  You reserve your room for a six hour block and can add hours as you feel necessary.  Please read their instructions closely regarding collecting your luggage and checking in for your subsequent flight.  Please ask us if you have any questions regarding this process.


Singapore as seen from the MBS area

The third option is the Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport.  This is a full-service hotel connected to the terminals at Changi Airport.  It was voted as one of the “World’s Top 10 Airport Hotels” at the 2011 World Airport Awards.

If you decide to stay in town, here are your best options.  This list is far from comprehensive as there are more than 550 accommodation options listed on TripAdvisor.  But we have seen many hotels in Singapore and feel these are the best.

Hotels in Singapore

The best hotel option is probably Marina Bay Sands (“MBS”).  It is very nice and is part of the most expensive building ever constructed.  It is luxurious and expensive (not as expensive as Raffles or The Fullerton) but what you’re really paying for are the amenities (sky deck, infinity pool, mall, gardens & grounds, casino, etc).  If you stay here, you will never have to leave the hotel if you don’t want to, as there is plenty to do on site.  The grounds are simply fantastic (see the gardens and the “Super Trees”).  The Gardens by the Bay are nice (about $20 but if you like plants & flowers they are quite impressive) [note: Lauren & I both prefer the free Botanical Gardens, but that will be a taxi ride to visit].  The mall is incredible.  There is a higher-end mall (called Ion) on Orchard Blvd, but the MBS mall is my favorite.  There is a food-court in the basement (right across from the skating rink).  It has all the foods from Singapore and is the cheapest option in the mall (quite reasonable and REALLY good).   Most importantly for this hotel is the sky park and pool on the roof.  It’s unbelievable!  You might not want to leave!  Even if you’re not staying at Marina Bay Sands, you can’t miss the water & light show.  It happens twice per night.  We recommend seeing it from the hotel-side and then from the other side (where the Merlion is) later that evening.  To see the show from the hotel side is more emotional (the short movie they project on a wall of water is a tear-jerker) but the lasers from across the bay were amazing.

Probably the best overall hotel in Singapore is The Fullerton.  The location is superb and the hotel is divine.  It is a very short walk to the bay, Clarke Quay, and Merlion Park and not very far to Marina Bay Sands.  Personally, I would still have to recommend Marina Bay Sands over Raffles or The Fullerton but all are good options.

The Mandarin-Oriental has a gorgeous view of Marina Bay Sands and is quite nearby.  The Mandarin-Oriental chain  is well-known and in the highest class of hotels.  Highly recommended, but only if MBS or The Fullerton are fully booked.

Raffles is possibly the most famous hotel in Singapore.  It’s especially well-known for its bar (the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling originated).  The hotel is amazing and so big.  There is a lot of shopping in the hotel and the location is great.  There is a nice mall right across the street.  The Long Bar, however, may be over-rated and definitely is too expensive.  The Singapore Sling will cost $22USD plus tax & tip.  Yup, that’s for one drink.  That said, it’s kinda cool to say you’ve had one there.  After that, however, you might want to eat elsewhere.  There are so many great food options in Singapore that are better and cheaper.  We’ll go into our favorites below.  But one place that isn’t that far from your hotel is called Clarke Quay.  It’s famous for its seafood and a fun place to hang out.  Suffice it to say, Raffles is a wonderful hotel and you’ll have a great time there–though quite frankly we think it’s slightly over-rated.

If you’re looking to spend a bit less, we can recommend a few other hotels in various price ranges.  We have toured or stayed in all the hotels below.  As of the time of writing this blog (2014) we can personally vouch for their quality.  In descending order of most expensive to least expensive:

New Majestic Hotel in Chinatown.  Gorgeous hotel with very nice rooms in a good location.  This is one of the most famous hotels in Chinatown.  It will typically cost around $200/night.  Travel + Leisure Magazine just rated one of the suites at this hotel to have one of the coolest bathtubs in the world.

Hotel 1929 in Chinatown.  A sister property of the New Majestic Hotel–it is slightly less expensive but still very nice.

The Scarlet Singapore hotel in Chinatown.  We love this hotel.  It is a 1 minute walk to Maxwell Road Food Centre (which will end up saving you lots of money on food).  The rooms are small but swank.

Santa Grand Hotel in Chinatown.  This hotel is a gem and is about as inexpensive as possible without staying in a hostel.  It is built into a former Chinese opera house.  They covered everything that stood still with red velvet and red carpeting.  The basic rooms are tiny, but there are more expensive upgrade options.  The location is RIGHT in the heart of Chinatown.

Adler Hostel in Chinatown.  This is one of our homes in Singapore.  It is THE highest-rated and most famous hostel in Singapore.  The beds are pods instead of bunks (where you can pull a curtain as if you’re in your own tiny room).  One bed will cost you about $45/night.  The people who run the guesthouse are wonderful.  It is exceptionally clean and the included breakfasts are simple but delicious.  It is perfectly located in Chinatown across from a Hindu temple.

Eating in Singapore

I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world that takes their food as seriously as in Singapore.  Though they have countless fancy and expensive restaurants throughout the city, we recommend you save your money and go to the hawker centers.  There are scores of them throughout the city.  The ones you’re most likely to encounter, however, are:

  • Maxwell Road Hawker Center.   This is probably the best and easiest place to experience REAL Singapore food.  It sits in Chinatown and is very easy to find.  You’d be happy eating at any one of the 100 food stalls, but there are some favorites (see photos below).
  • Food Court on the ground floor of Marina Bay Sands mall (across from the skating rink).  Though in a very expensive mall, you can get most of the Singapore staple dishes for a reasonable price.  If you find yourself at MBS, you should definitely eat here.

There is SO much online about the many dishes you should try in Singapore and which hawker centers and stalls are the best, but here are a few.  This is a CNN article on the best hawker center food stalls in Singapore.  Here is one on the best dishes to try at Maxwell Road Food Centre though you can also look at my list below.  The guy that runs I Eat – I Shoot – I Post is a physician by day and Singapore’s most famous food blogger & photographer by night.  If you’re a REAL foodie, you’ll like this blog a lot!  Here are a few more good articles on Singapore food: How to navigate a Singapore food center (overall guide); 10 Foods to Try in Singapore; Guide to the best hawker centers and food stalls at those respective food centers;

 At Maxwell Center

Try the black “carrot cake” and Char Kway Teow (aka Fried Kway Teow) at this stall.

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre 1


Below is possibly the single most famous food stall in Singapore (Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice).  If you like tender and juicy chicken this is the place for you.  There is nothing not to like about this dish unless you’re a vegetarian.  Even people who are afraid to try foreign foods will love it (not spicy at all).

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre 2


There are probably 10 stalls that sell smoothies, blended drinks, and juices.  This is my favorite.  She has every fruit you can imagine and will blend up any concoction you can dream of.

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre 3


Below is the seating are of Maxwell Road Food Center.  It’s open seating.  You order and pay for your food and then bring it to your table.  If, however, you see a packet of tissues at a spot–it means it’s reserved for someone else.  You might end up sitting with some local folks–if you do, ask them what they’re eating.  Everyone speaks English to one degree or another.

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre 4


Below is one of the roads in Chinatown.  It’s sheltered from the rain, has some good food stalls and has great places to get foot massages.

Singapore Chinatown covered road


Around Singapore

Below are some photos of Gardens by the Bay–the indoor botanical gardens at Marina Bay Sands.

Singapore Gardens by the Bay 1 Singapore Gardens by the Bay 3

Singapore Gardens by the Bay 2

Singapore Gardens by the Bay 4

Singapore Gardens by the Bay 5


Need more? 50 more interesting things about Singapore.

The Buzz: Malaria & Mosquitos in South and Southeast Asia

The Buzz: Malaria & Mosquitos in South and Southeast Asia

The Buzz: Malaria & Mosquitos in South and Southeast Asia

vintage malariaWhat is malaria, anyways?

One of the most frequent and most important questions we get is about malaria. Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by parasitic protozoans.  The disease is most often transmitted by a bite from an infected female mosquito, which introduces the organisms from its saliva into a person’s circulatory system.  In the blood, the parasites travel to the liver to mature and reproduce.  In short: malaria is a parasite transmitted through the bites of female mosquitos. 

Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, which in severe cases can progress to coma or death.  Malaria is common in tropical and subtropical regions because rainfall, warm temperatures, and stagnant waters provide an environment ideal for mosquito larvae.  Disease transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites by using mosquito nets and insect repellents, or with mosquito-control measures such as spraying insecticides and draining standing water. Despite a need, no effective vaccine exists, although efforts to develop one are ongoing. (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations has spent upwards of $2 Billion to eradicate malaria). Several medications are available to prevent malaria in travelers to malaria-endemic countries.  A number medications are available in those who have the disease.  

vintage_malaria_mosquito_poster-r970ea99e806843b49e2ad01e7f1e9531_ci5_8byvr_512So, what do I do while traveling?

Malaria is a serious illness and nothing to be taken lightly, and we take it very seriously in our life abroad. We choose to forego the malaria prophylaxis (pills you take to reduce the risk of getting malaria) due to the resistance against those drugs and their potential side-effects which I have experienced first hand. Instead we choose to focus on preventing bites in the first place.

This website is a comprehensive article on how to prevent getting mosquito bites. In short, wear a mosquito repellent and cover up (long sleeves and pants), especially during dawn and dusk. Also, use mosquito nets when provided.

There are many options for mosquito repellent; here’s a list of some of the most highly rated ones by Consumer Reports.  We’ve used Natrapel before (the active ingredient is picaridin instead of DEET) with good results.  Since we don’t encounter many ‘skeeters, Lauren will often use a natural, essential-oil based product like this one by Badger.  If you do use a chemical-based one, just make sure to wash it off before you go to bed (given there are no mosquitos in your sleeping quarters!)

Lauren and I very rarely get bitten by mosquitos.  I could tell you it’s because of the precautions we take, but in actuality it’s because there are very rarely mosquitos in the locations we visit when we visit.  India, Nepal, Bali, Lombok, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, etc…  We almost never see mosquitos.  I don’t mean we see few mosquitos—we see almost none.  In a typical 12-month period we probably see no more than 20 mosquitos (no exaggeration).

vintage malaria 2There are a number of reasons we don’t see many mosquitos, from it being too cold in Ladakh and parts of Nepal to active mosquito elimination programs in many regions. Whatever the reasons, we can anecdotally attest that we encounter few to no mosquitos in the specific areas we visit at the times of year we bring our tour groups.

What about dengue fever?

More importantly, malaria is not the only mosquito-borne illness that exists in regions you may visit.  Dengue (pronounced den-gee or den-gay) fever is a serious (though generally not life-threatening) illness that is transferred to humans by mosquitos. These particular mosquitos generally bite during the daytime hours (unlike the species that may carry malaria which generally bite at dusk and dawn). There is no vaccine or prophylaxis for dengue fever and the only prevention is to keep mosquitos from biting you.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Our personal experiences are just that and we are not doctors.  We have found that physicians generally seem to advise people to take malaria medications even when maps and research show it may not be necessary.  We advise you to research the topic of mosquito borne illnesses and prevention and make the decision yourself with the consultation of your physician and make a decision you fee comfortable with. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read online.

So where is malaria still a problem?

Below are some specific maps showing regions which we frequent on our tours and whether or not malaria is likely to exist there.

Map showing malaria endemic regions of India. The areas we visit on our tours are all in the “low to no risk” areas. [from www.all-about-india.com]


Map showing malaria endemic regions of Nepal. The areas we visit on our tours are all in the “low to no risk” region. [From http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk]

This article is from CIWEC, the foremost travel medicine hospital in Nepal, and is probably the best information available on the subject of malaria in Nepal.


bali malaria map lombok

Map showing reported malaria endemic regions of Bali & Lombok. Note that we almost never see mosquitos in the small areas of Lombok that we visit, including Gili Trawangan. [From www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk]

Map showing malaria endemic regions of Cambodia. The areas we visit on our tours are in the “low to no risk region.” [From www.malariamaps.hps.scot.nhs.uk]


Map showing the malaria endemic areas of Myanmar (Burma). You can see that Yangon (Rangoon) is in the low to no risk zone. It shows that Bagan is in the high-risk zone, but we have found few or no mosquitos during the dry months of December, January & February.


Map showing that the majority of Thailand has “low to no risk of malaria.” We only bring people to those regions. [From www.malariamaps.hps.scot.nhs.uk]



Flying to New Delhi (DEL) from the USA

Flying to New Delhi (DEL) from the USA

headed to delhi airport immigrationWhat’s the best way to get to India?

Getting to India’s Indira Gandhi International airport is pretty straightforward from the United States.  Depending on where you begin your travels in the US, you can typically buy return tickets for between $1100-$1500 (economy class, as of 2014).  I generally start my search for flights on Kayak.  When I find a flight that I like, I usually go directly to their website to make the purchase (e.g.  United or Delta).  I look for two things when looking for long-haul flights:  price and total travel time. Secondarily, I look at whether we can have a long layover at a decent hour in a city we’d like to explore.

I have been traveling to India for 20 years and have been there more than 20 times; I have flown the leg from the US to Delhi more than a dozen times.  It’s a long flight, but quite manageable.  You are typically flying in nice aircraft, most often in a Boeing 777, which is quite comfortable and has an excellent entertainment system for each seat.

Unequivocally I recommend flying United Airlines via Newark—Delhi (direct).  Flying United is usually cheaper and shorter than many other options.  In addition, if you fly the direct route from Newark—Delhi you arrive earlier in the evening (about 9:20 PM) versus other airlines which land between 1 AM to 3 AM.  United also has other flight options that are sometimes less expensive (flying through Frankfurt, Germany).

You will generally begin your flight one calendar day before you are supposed to arrive in Delhi.  For example, if you depart the USA on February 15th you will arrive into Delhi on the night of February 16th OR just after midnight on February 17th.  When you are flying back to the USA from Delhi, you’ll leave very late at night and arrive in the USA the next calendar day in the early morning hours.

For our tours, we set a date that guests must arrive (the first day of the tour).  We understand that most individuals will arrive late that evening or even after midnight.  You can arrive for our tours anytime after noon on the first day of the tour–we would get you checked into the hotel and allow you to rest or help you to explore.  If, however, you arrive before the first day of the tour there will be an extra charge for your expenses that day. We will see to it that you are well taken care of, but please know we may have other business to attend to before the rest of the group arrives.

How do I get out of the airport?

Lauren has written a detailed blog with pictures about navigating out of IGI airport–check it out by clicking here.

sun salutation statue in Delhi airportWhen should I buy my tickets?

Research done at CheapAir says that the optimum time to purchase tickets from the US to Asia is 129 days before the initial flight.  That said, they also write that purchasing tickets too early is much better than purchasing them too late.  It is also worth noting that tickets cannot be purchased before 330 days prior to your return flight.

When you’re buying a ticket for one of our tours, please communicate with us before your buy your ticket. Our RetreaTours™ have a minimum number of guests required before “launch,” and we want to make sure we have those numbers before you purchase tickets.

If you have any questions please let us know.  You may choose to break up your flight with a stop on the way to or from India (you can stop in Europe, Dubai, Singapore, etc).  We can help you plan your itinerary at no extra charge.  You can also read some of our tips on how to mitigate jet-lag for your flight.