Planes, Trains, and Visas

In this ongoing post, I will document my travels in regard to the minutia of recording my flights, hotels, visas, lounges and other travel trivia.

January 7 – Thailand

Checking in at O’hare’s international terminal with Korean Air.

The first flight of the year was a long and uncomfortable ride from Chicago to Seoul.  Sitting in the second to last row in economy, but was able to watch a couple of movies.

My ticket to Seoul.  At least it was an aisle.

Thankfully, before this unpleasant flight I was able to get some free snacks before the flight at the Air France/KLM Lounge.

air france lounge in ORD

air france klm lounge air france klm lounge What also made this an interesting flight was I brought my dog, Khan Mak from the states back to Bangkok.

January 8

I made it to Seoul where I had a layover as I waited for my next flight to Bangkok.  Around 60,000,000 passengers pass through this airport.

Incheon International AirportIncheon International AirportAnd since I had a couple of hours to kill, I found my way to the Matina Lounge in Terminal 2, which was a much more updated lounge than the one at ORD.

matina lounge seoul

Not the best way to start of the new year, but these chocolate things in the right hand corners were delicious.

matina lounge seoul

Then six more hours to Bangkok in economy.

January 21 – Uganda

My exit stamp, leaving Thailand.

This was my start to my East African roadtrip.  I departed Bangkok.  Anyone who has been there, knows this statue at BKK.

And late at night, I headed to the Miracle Lounge to relax before my flight.

My flight was at 2 am, departing Bangkok to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Air, part of Star Alliance.  I sat next to a difficult guy, who was originally sitting in my seat that he did not want to give up.  I managed to sleep on this flight.

I arrived in ADD in the early morning to catch my connection to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  The airport is under construction/renovation, opening up a new terminal.

I had now arrived in Uganda.

uganda visa

Applied for my visa and paid online.  Presented my letter at immigration and quickly got my visa on arrival in Uganda.  Country number 131.

I stayed the first night just ten minutes from the airport at the Saffron Beach Bistro and Cottages, it was right on Lake Victoria, which was nice.  But at this hotel, the AC and hot water did not work.  Not too good for $50.

And for lunch, I had some Indian curry.  Not bad.

And you can guess here that I stayed at Forest Cottages in the capital of Uganda, Kampala.  I took an Uber from Entebbe to Kampala for about $20, the ride was an hour.  

I had some more curry and some vegetables for dinner here.  The cuisine has some Indian influences here.

I don’t bring shampoo with me when I travel, hoping that the hotel will provide.  Forest Cottages did not, so I picked up this shampoo at the market near the hotel.

 

I found a great Lebanese restaurant next to the only western mall in Kampala.  Ended up eating here twice for chicken shawarma.  Quite good.  

And just in case you are curious what license plates, currency, and newspapers look like.

Next, I left Kampala and headed to Fort Portal and stayed at Kluges Guest Farm.  As you can see it was a tent, set on beautiful grounds.  The hotel was owned by a long term German ex-pat.

And I had a cold beer after the long drive at the farm.

Next up was the Queen Elisabeth Bush Lodge.  This one had some room for approval.  But it was very close to the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  I was here for two nights.

I then stayed two nights at the Rushaga Gorilla Camp, set in the mountains.  This hotel was just minutes from Bwindi National Park, where I hiked for gorillas.  And also had a giant bathroom!

February 1 – Rwanda

 

Above is no-man’s land between Uganda and Rwanda.  I crossed overland.  And here is my visa for country number 132.

This is my room at the Kigali View Hotel, which is in the capital of Rwanda.

And I had a giant private patio outside of my room.

It overlooked Kigali, which is a very hilly city.

I lived it up and ate at the Italian restaurant at the very big Marriott in Kigali.  I was getting a bit tired of the food in Uganda.

February 3 – Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwanda has only two airports.  I flew to the SW corner of Rwanda to the Kamembe airport.  But I was not staying there.  I flew with Rwanda Air for the first time.

I then headed to the airport in Kigali and stopped into the lounge.

It was about a five hour drive in a taxi for $150 one way, or a 20 minute fly for $150 round trip.  Easy choice.

I was not staying in Kamembe, Rwanda, but I was heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Kamembe was right on the border.  So I grabbed this taxi at the airport for a quick 15 minute drive at $10.

Exiting Rwanda.  Easy and quick.

I was going to the Kahuzi National Park to trek gorillas.  The park was able to issue this document so I could get a visa on arrival at the border for $100.  This process went quite smoothly and professionally.  I was a bit surprised at how easy it was.

Its official … my DRC visa.

I walked over the border and it was like two different worlds, leaving Rwanda and entering DRC.  The poverty was immediate when entering DRC.

I took a $10 cab from the DRC border to Lodge Coco.  I found this lodge on TripAdvisor Forum.  The owner is a German expat who has been in Bukavu for a couple of decades.  He was a decent source for information on the ground.  The hotel was an oasis in Bukavu with a ton of UN and NGO people hanging out in the restaurant.  This place was not cheap, $120 a night, but things in DRC are a but more difficult.  Lodge Coco had its own water system and generator since the government can not consistently provide these services.

A yummy breakfast.

February 5 – Rwanda

A left DRC after two nights and crossed back into Rwanda.  I ended up spending one night on Lake Kivu waiting for my flight the following morning.  I stayed at the Peace Guest House, a newer hotel around $30.

I had an avocado for dinner.  Cheap and tasty in Rwanda.

A flight back on this prop to Kigali.  It even left early.

I had one night in Kigali, waiting for my flight the following day to Burundi.  The plans was to stay in a “real” hotel. I opted for the Hotel des Milles Collines.  This hotel is “famous” since this is where Hotel Rwanda actually took place.  My plan was stay at the hotel for 24 hrs and catch up on work.  This plan was dashed since the internet was quite shitty.  Disappointing for a $120 hotel.

I had four meals here before I left for the airport again.  The avocado salad hit the spot.

This compact airport was professionally run and had great security.  They had an area far from the airport where they screened each car individually.  Impressive. 

One of those sobering warnings that Ebola is the region, specifically DRC during my visit.

Customs will check your bags and confiscate your plastic bags.  Rwanda was the cleanest country in Africa I have seen.

February 7 – Burundi

Another flight on Rwanda Air.

Time for country number 134.  Heading to Bujumbura.

Arrived at the international airport in Bujumbura, the largest city in Burundi, and former capital.

Typically, I will try and get a local SIM card when I get to a new country.  My guide picked me up at the airport and brought me to the Econet store.  The store had officially closed at 5 pm, but awesome customer service prevailed and they unlocked they store, let me in, and gave me a Carte Sim.  $12 got me 5 GB of data.

I stayed three nights at Safari Gate, which was on Lake Tanganyika.  The hotel was a but dated and set me back $75 a night.

This is from the view from the third floor, open-air restaurant run by a woman from Belgium.  I ate three meals here, a recommended restaurant.

And … what a Burundi license plate looks like.

Not exciting, but on the last day I picked up 48 passport photos for $10.  A but cheaper than home.

February 7 – Thailand

Checking in to fly home to Bangkok in this dated airport.

My first of two flights on Ethiopia Air to get back to Bangkok.

My second flight back to Bangkok.  Too bad they forgot to put my bag on the plane, which I got three days later.

February 15 – Myanmar (Burma)

That was quick, after five days in Bangkok, I was back at BKK to catch a flight to Yangon.  My fifth time in Burma, one of my favorite countries.

For less than $5 I got almost 8 GB of data at the airport.  And only took five minutes.  Great job Telenor!planes, trains and visas I took Grab (South East Asia’s answer to Uber) from the airport to my hotel.  It was nearly an hour ride for less than $10.  Notice my driver multi-tasking.

I checked in for one night at Botahtaung Hotel, about $45.  Good central location and great staff.  A newer hotel.

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

Up early in Yangon, and took a Grab back to the airport.  A prop-plane to Bagan, one of the most amazing places in the world.

planes trains visas

Arriving in Bagan, and walking to the small airport.

planes trains visa

Checking into the Temple View Hotel Bagan with a great (for the view) rooftop restaurant.  You can see the hot air balloons in the morning float over the horizon.

planes trains visas

Had a lunch of curry after checking into our hotel at an open air restaurant.

planes trains visas

We stayed one night in Bagan, and then a five hour drive or so to Mindat in Chin State.  I stayed four nights at Hotel Mindat, “the” hotel to stay at in Mindat.  The Burmese couple who owned this and spoke fluent English were great hosts.

planes trains visas

OK…I am not really a foodie.  I ended up eating dinner at the hotel four nights in the row, and I ate the same meal four times.  A really delicious chicken potato curry which was quite oily.  This was only a couple of dollars.  The only catch, is you needed to put in your order two hours before.  But of course, the owners already knew my order.

I guessed wrong here … man or woman for the bathroom.

A street sign, and I believe the 0 k mark.

planes trains visas

I rented bikes to drive around Mindat.  That was the only real way to get around.  No taxis.  And a very hilly place with one very long road for the center of town.

planes trains visas

Filling up the tanks of the motorbikes.  She spoke fluent English, but definitely she did not like my jokes.

planes trains visas

In a small village in the mountains, we went to a temple and we were invited to have a meal with the monks and adherents.

planes trains visas

This was the dessert, and was so tasty!

planes trains visas

After our four nights in Mindat and we drove back to Bagan for two nights.  I checked into Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan.  Bad internet and a very poorly designed shower.

planes trains visa

planes trains visa

OK, I did have the same meal for dinner four nights in a row in Mindat, but decided to take advantage of the different options in Bagan which is a lot more touristy.  Awesome pizza and tiramisu at La Pizza 2.

planes trains visa

planes trains visas

planes trains visa

planes trains visa

After two great nights in Bagan, we headed to the Bagan airport to fly to Mandalay.  It was supposed to be a direct flight, but the canceled the flight, and put us on a different flight with a connection.

planes trains visas

Welcome to the Mandalay Airport which is an international airport, hence newer and more modern.

planes trains visas

In Mandalay I stayed at Hotel Yadanarbon, same brand as in Bagan.  This hotel was much nicer and gave me a late check out.  Nice pool on the roofdeck as well.

planes trains visas

 

I was only here one night, but surprise, surprise, I ate the same meal three times (chicken tikka masala) at the same restaurant in Mandalay.  The restaurant is Indian Tadka.  Ironically, they have a branch literally the next street over from my apartment in Bangkok.  I had no idea.

planes trains visas

I took an hour ride on this boat to see an amazing temple.

planes trains visas

Leaving Mandalay to the airport, I took another Grab for the one hour ride.  This driver was a classic, besides texting and calling the whole ride, driving with his knees, and driving in the middle of the road, he decided to drink beer as we neared the airport.  Way to go Grab Taxi!

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

Back at Mandalay Airport to fly home to Bangkok.

March 2 – Pattaya Thailand

planes trains visas

I got back from Myanmar and several days later I went to Pattaya (about a two hour drive) for two nights.  Mirabel Resort was a bit interesting

March 26 – Istanbul

After a month in Bangkok, it was time to get back on the road.  I was leaving for a multi-week trip to West Africa and Portugal.  My first stop after checking in was to head to get my VAT refund.  My 24-70 lens broke several days before my trip, forcing me to buy a new lens.  The only upside was a nearly $200 refund in the VAT.

Most tourists get a 30 day visa upon entry to Thailand.  My problem was I stayed 31 days in Thailand.  Very nice immigration official who made a simple notation and let me on my way.  There seems to be a one day grace period.

Taking advantage of Priority Pass, I stopped into the Lounge and yes, got some fresh hot pancakes.

 

Now to board my flight which was at 11:50pm.

And now for another fun flight in economy for 10 hours.

Arrived in the morning in Turkey, where you need to apply for an evisa which you show to the immigration official.

When Uber works, it works great.  Before arriving to Turkey, I searched if Uber was available in Istanbul.  There was conflicting info, so I was glad to see them there.  For half the price the hotel quoted, I arrived in style in the Mercedes van for about $14 for a 45 minute ride.

Great little boutique hotel, which gave me an early check-in which was appreciated.  Great location…the room was a bit on the small side.  But good choice.

Then taking some time for some great food.

March 28 – Mauritania

I am back at the aiport.  This was a 24 hour city break in Istanbul to break up the long flight.  Now onto the next location.  Any guesses?

Time to go to Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania.

Mauritania offers visa on arrival for most nationalities.  It is 55 Euro in cash.  This was an easy process.  Only a couple people in line, and the official processed in several minutes.

I exited the airport looking for my pre-arranged driver from the hotel.  Unfortunately, he was not there.  The new airport is isolated and over 45 minutes from the city.  It is recommended to arrange a driver beforehand since there are no taxis hanging around.  With Google Translate and some patience, I spoke to some airport officials about my situation.  One official offered to drive me to the hotel for a cool 30 Euro.  This was a bit disappointing, since the hotel was going to charge me 13 Euro.

I got to Hotel Iman, which was grossly overpriced at $100.  The hotel refused to pay for the difference in the airport transfer price.  Avoid Hotel Iman next time you do a long weekend in Nouakchott .

Hotel Iman breakfast.

My “home” for the next week.  The plan was to drive around Mauritania.

Here is my guide, Baba, overviewing the route.

What do you eat in Mauritania?  Some of this.  All meals are basically the same … a lot of goat or camel stew.

Second night in Mauritania was at this campground in this tent in Terjit.  Surprisingly, there was a giant rainstorm that night, thankfully the tent was dry.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Planes, Trains, and Visas

  1. Frank

    Yikes. That’s a LOT of frigin travel.

    I love the concept of the post, the “minutia” of travel, because it’s so true. Readers only see the pretty photos and the “romance”of travel. There’s often not much romance in travel. Case in point: our direct train earlier this week from Thessaloniki (Greece) to Sofia (Bulgaria). Not that far. Easy peasy, right? Well, we arrived 4 trains and 2 buses later due to construction on the rail line, a train breaking down, and two countries who seemingly want nothing to do with each other. How can it be so difficult to get across a border? What a frigin mess. And THAT is often the reality of travel. That and having to fart loud and long after 8 hours on a plane but having to hold it in for another 4 hours.

    Totally feel this post 🙂

    Reply
  2. TrAAveller

    This is great. Thanks for sharing the minutia. As i also book every portion of the trip independently, it’s great to see how you pieced everything together, flights, hotels, restaurants, transfers. With only 115 countries here, they tend to get more complicated knocking out the second half.

    Reply

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