K O N G'S    S H O R T    N O T E   ON    A F G H A N I S T A N  (http://pazu.com/afghanistan/)


Road is bad and food is dull, but with some of the holiest places for Muslims, best sceneries in the world, and the place that you can shock your friends by saying "I've been there!" (sorry to say this), there are just too many reasons to go to Afghanistan. So after 23 years of wars, Afghanistan seems to be back on the list for travellers again.

This short note is made by a Hong Kong Chinese named Kong (aka Pazu on the internet), and it's me. I've tried to make it in the familiar "Lonely Planet format", some information below are from my own research, some are from other travellers. The travel notes that I've got from a friend (made by an anonymous Japanese and a Korean Mr Yaan) has been very helpful in preparing this short note on Afghanistan. I suggest you also take the "An Historical Guide to Afghanistan" with this note, see below for more detail. Note that I cannot take any responsibilities if the information is wrong. I tried to keep all the information in one web page only, and make the format as simple as possible (only two pics, no funny colors, no indents, etc) because I hope that you find it easy to print this note out, I'll be very happy if you can find it a good companion for your trip in Afghanistan, comments are always welcome.

 

CONTACT

Please contact me at http://www.pazu.com/gossip.html

Homepage: http://www.pazu.com/

My photos: http://www.pazu.com/a/album.html

Date: 10 Dec, 2002

Revised: 10 Mar, 2003

 

F A C T S     F O R      V I S I T O R S


PASSPORT

It's common sense that you need to have a passport to go to Afghanistan, but because of the very frequent checks of passport by police, you should always carry a valid passport. The trouble is that whenever you apply a visa or extend your visa, you need to put your passport at the embassy or office for 24 hours, a photocopy may help, but a Japanese tourist was "caught" without a passport (but with photocopy) and was arrested and sent to a prison for 2 hours for interogation (and beaten up!). The lesson is, be patient with the Afghan police.


VISA

Afghan visa:

It is quite easy to get an Afghan visa. A 30-day (or sometimes only 15 days) costs US$30 and you need to pay the money in US dollar cash. In Pakistan, the best place to apply a visa is Peshawar (but not for Japanese). The visa section for foreigners is open on Tuesday or Thursday only, a letter of recommendation (which should cost you some money too) is officially required, but you can always ask to be an exception. It takes 1 day or 1 week to get your visa. The Afghan embassy in Islamabad usually gives 15-day visa only, but you can get an extension in Kabul. Note for Japanese, the Japanese government complained to the Afghan consulate in Peshawar that they gave out visa to Japanese too easily (risking their nationals' lives?), so now Japanese must have a letter of recommendation from their embassy to get a visa (which is almost impossible to get except you're working for an NGO). But if you find the right staff, you can pay him a baksheesh of US$100 to get a 30-day tourist visa without a letter of recommendation, this is of course a scam, but all people think (no matter what the truth is), while Japanese are trying to save every bit of money, their money is still just too easy to get.

Pakistani visa:

If you go to Afghanistan from Pakistan and plan to go back to Pakistan, you can make your single entry Pakistani visa to be a re-entry one in Islamabad, but not in Peshawar. It takes 24 hours and you can get it done in the Passport Office. It's free for Japanese and Chinese (mainlanders), Rs200 for Hong Kong Chinese. Note that if you have a 30-day visa, they will give a re-entry visa PLUS a 60-day extension (that's a total of 90 days) for the same price.

Or you can apply a new Pakistani visa in Kabul, it takes 24 hours and they usually give only 7-day transit visa, but ask them to check the book with price list for different nationals, it states very clearly that you can get a 15-day transit visa for the same price. With good reasons and a long letter written by yourself, you can get a 30-day tourist visa without too much problems, just tell them how much you love Pakistan, and state all the places you want to go back and travel in Pakistan. The visa is free for Japanese and Chinese (mainlanders), US$10 for Hong Kong Chinese, US$35 for Australian. You need to pay the US dollars cash on spot, 2 photos are needed.

Iranian visa:

Kabul is probably one of the best places to apply an Iranian visa, no letter of recommendation is required, just 24 hours and US$50, you can get a tourist visa of 30 days. Friday close. I'm not quite sure if it's the same for British and American. PS: A traveller said the rule has changed, it may be difficult to get an Iranian visa in Kabul now.


VISA EXTENSION

It's easy to extend your Afghan visa in Kabul. Go to the Afghan Tourist Organization (ATO) near the airport (a taxi ride from downtown is Af40), get a letter from a staff and pay $5 for 2 weeks or $10 for 4 weeks, bring small banknote as they usually don't have any dollars in the drawer. Take the letter to the Passport Office near the Indian Embassy (a taxi ride costs another Af 40), go to the visa section for foreign nationals at the first floor (ground is the first floor), get a piece of form, then go to the second floor and ask the boss to give you a signature, go back to the first floor and pay the new visa tax $20. One photo is required.

You usually need to wait 24 hours (and leave your passport there), but I really can't see any reasons why they can't do it right away. If you ask to get the extension immediately, the staff will then ask you to go to the second floor again and asked his boss's approval, the boss will probably be very very very angry to see you again, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?" will be his response, "BORO boROOOOO!!!" (DAMN OFF!) will be his shouting, go back to the first floor again, just tell the guy downstairs, "your boss said you can solve the problem for me!", he wouldn't dare to confirm this from his boss! ^^, and he will then give you an extension immediately. Note that the extension starts from the date of extension, not from the date of expiration of your previous visa.


COST, TIPS AND BARGAINING

Foreigners in Afghanistan live in two totally different worlds. Those NGO or journalists with tons of money to spend can stay at hotels targeted for foreigners, cost US$25 - 60 /night. Restaurants for foreigners costs $5 - 10 per person. The UN has some special domestic and int'l flight service in Afghanistan, but the price is a good surprise to all travellers. Afghanistan can also be a very cheap place to travel. Cheap guesthouse (in Kabul) costs $3/person, local food with rice or kebab is $1 per meal. Transportation by bus or even hired taxi is cheap, e.g. from Kabul to Bamiyan costs $4 by TownAce. Tips is not essential but seems like a common practice in restaurants for foreigners. You can pay the bill in US dollars and give the baksheesh in Afghanis (Af 5 or 10). Though there are not any written foreigners' price, foreigners are expected to pay more than local people, e.g. local pay $3 in the same hotel for a double room, foreigners pay $3 for one bed.


MONEY

(PS: This part is a bit outdated but as you guys may still find it interesting so I keep it here.) The name of Afghan currency is Afghani, but what made things a little bit confusing is that there are 3 types of Afghanis: Daulati, Junbishi and new Afghani (known as Karzai, the president's name!). Daulati is the currency used in Kabul and all around Afghanistan, while Junbishi is only used in Mazar-i Sharif and around. The two banknotes look very similar but the value of Junbishi is only half of Daulati. It's very confusing indeed but luckily, the Afghan government has printed some new Afghani lately, whose value is officially 1000 times higher than the Daulati (that is 2000 times higher than the Junbishi). People now prefer the new currency and want to get rid of the old one, the exchange rate for the new one is usually a little bit lower than the old one. In Dec 2002, $1 = Af 58000 old Afghani, or Af 52 new Afghani. At the time of research, the Afghan government said they were going to replace all the old Afghanis before 5 Dec 2002 and people were queuing outside bank to change all their money into the new currency, IN MAR 2003 BOTH OLD AFGHANIS ARE ALMOST UNACCEPTED EVERYWHERE, SO MAKE SURE YOU GET NONE. You can always pay US dollars or Pakistani rupees (called Kalda) for anything, but with a less better rates, and it'd better to have some US dollars as you can sometimes pay only US dollars for visa extension or application.


EXCHANGE RATE

The exchange is very unstable, so just keep this as a reference.

(Note: In this guide Af refers to the new Afghani, Karzai, unless otherwise stated.)

US$1 = Pakistani Rupees (PRs) 58

Af 10000 (Daulati) = Af 5000 (Junbishi)

Date: 8 Nov 2002

$1 = Af 72500 old Afghani (Daulati)

Rs1 = Af 1250 old Afghani (Daulati)

Date: 3 Dec 2002

$1 = Af 58000 old Afghani (Daulati)

$1 = Af 52 new Afghani (Karzai)


INSURANCE

I've asked some insurance company and they said they won't cover Afghanistan in their so-called "World Plan", so you may think Afghanistaion is in the space... Make sure you insurance plan has covered Afghanistan in their plan, or if you can claim money back if you are unlucky enough to step on a landmine. Some almost-impossible-to-see text at the insurance leaflet will tell you they won't cover casualty of war.


POST AND TELECOMMUNICATION

Postcard arrives safely from Afghanistan, though it takes 3 weeks to China. The price is difficult to tell, I've mailed postcards twice, one time they asked me to pay Af 25 /card and the other time Af 11. A letter to China costs Af 18 or 25 (with the same weight...). If you are a stamp collector you can go to the Central Post Office in Kabul (near Spinzar Hotel), the staff are just too happy to show (and sell) you their private collections. A Bamiyan stamp (after bombing, without the Budda) makes a very good souvenir (Af25). Int'l calls are surprisingly cheap in Kabul, in the CPO it's only Af 17 per minute to Hong Kong and Af 16 to China. There are some delays in the voice connection and they count the minute even when nobody picks the phone up. You can even have a mobile (GSM) in Kabul, you can buy a SIM card from the CPO for $150 plus a letter from your organization or company, or you can buy your card without a letter from any dealer in Chicken Street, Kabul for $200. A recharge value card costs $20, 50 or 100, 1 cent  buys you one unit, 10 units per local call and 65 units per int'l call. AWCC (Afghan Wireless) is the only mobile company in Afghanistan in 2002, but a new one is coming, which should be cheaper and (said to) have a better coverage.


DANGERS AND ANNOYANCE

Afghanistan is never a safe place to travel, road accidents, bomb, landmines or whatever you can think of, can be happened in Afghanistan at any time. But there are more and more travellers in Afghanistan now and there's a very big int'l community (mainly NGO) working in Kabul. Pickpocket is not very common but take care when you go to the bazaar, which can be very crowded and you may even think it was some kind of a festival. The night curfew in Kabul was cancelled in 3 Nov 2002, but you can still almost find nothing on the street at night. The Mama Najaf Hotel in Bamiyan is notorious for their small thieves (stealing shoes, small bags and so on), always lock your door with YOUR OWN LOCK.


BOOKS, NEWSPAPER, RADIO, TV

BOOKS: "Lonely Planet Central Asia 1998" has a very small section on Afghanistan and is pretty useless. "An Historical Guide to Afghanistan", published in 1977, is still surprisingly a good companion to travel in Afghanistan. You can buy this book in Saeed Book Bank in Peshawar for PRs700 or at the old bookstores in front of the Spinzar Hotel in Kabul for PRs220. There's a very good Kabul map at the back of the book, make sure you get this too. The map is still quite accurate. Note that there are two editions of the book, one published in 1970 and the other in 1977 (still 25 years ago!), so make sure you've bought the "latest" one. NEWSPAPER: "Kabul Times" is available in Kabul only, though it's sometimes difficult to find. The listed price is Af1 but you usually need to pay Af3 for it. "The News" (published in Pakistan) has a section of Afghanistan and is a very good source of the latest news, you can buy it easily in Kabul. RADIO: BBC and VOA is available in FM in Kabul for two or three hours at night time. TV: Most hotels or restaurants for foreigners have satellite TVs with BBC, FOX, CNN, CCTV, but no NHK. Sometimes you can even see porno from Turkey!

 

INTERNET RESOURCES

Lonely Planet Thorntree (http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com/) is a forum which I found very helpful and Central Asia is the border for discussion about Afghanistan, you need to register to post there. Don't miss the Kabul Caravan (http://www.kabulcaravan.com), the most comprehensive e-guide to Afghanistan to day! The author of this website is writing an Afghanistan guidebook for Lonely Planet. Afghanistan Afghan (http://www.afghanistans.com/) has an updated summary of recents news of Afghanistan. Another good way to gather some news by yourself is to use the Google News services (http://news.google.com/), usually I just searched on the keywords "China Afghanistan", then I got some latest news related to the 2 countries. Internet is a good place to check up stories from other travellers, the Travel Library (http://www.travel-library.com/afghanistan) summed up a list of travelogs from 1960s and 70s. Afghanistan Online (http://www.afghan-web.com/) has some general information about Afghanistan, they have a chatroom too, but it's not that much related to travelling. The Survival Guide to Kabul (http://www.kabulguide.net) has very extensive information about Kabul, but it seems to be written by a rich or well-sponsored guy so the recommendations of hotels and guesthouses tend to be expensive, not really for a budget mind. Ariana Afghan Airlines (http://www.flyariana.com/) has a website with flight timetable. There're lots other websites related to Afghanistan, so please do a little search on the web yourself.


LANGUAGE

The two main languages in Afghanistan is Dari and Pastho. Dari is the Afghan Persian, with some words different from Iranian Persian. Lonely Planet Central Asia  Phrasebook has an extensive Pastho section. Lonely Planet Persian Phrasebook is good to use but extremely difficult to find in Islamabad and impossible to find in Kabul. A phrasebook called "Persian on Trip" is pretty useless (and difficult to use) but you can buy it in Kabul for $4 or 5. In Kabul, you can also find many dictionaries on Dari/Persian in the two bookshops in Chicken Street.


THINGS TO BRING

Night time can be long and boring, so bring some books, you can buy or exchange some English books in Kabul. A torch (flashlight) can be very useful as power cut is just too frequent. Kabul has a very comprehensive stock of imported goods in Flower Street in Kabul, you can even buy a Dell Computer there! Hot drinking water is always available (free or cheap) in the restaurants but probably not in the cheap hotels, if you use hot water to make your tea or brush your teeth, you may want a small thermo flask. If you plan to stay in the communal hall in restaurants you may want a sleeping bag too, blanket is provided but just not enough.

BEGGARS

There are quite a lot of beggars in Kabul, especially around the Chicken Street where foreigners go and buy souvenirs. Don't encourage begging, but after 23 years of war many women became widow and in a society where women are still very suppressed, begging sometimes can be their only way of living. Pay what the local pay the beggars, and never give money to children.

SUGGESTED ITINERARY

If you have 3 weeks, you can make a round trip of Afghanistan by going to Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i Sharif and Bamiyan. The trip from Herat to Mazar-i Sharif and Mazar-i Sharif to Bamiyan can be a problem as there's no public transportation, but you can hire a jeep, it won't be too expensive if you can share the car with other travellers, see the section below for more information. If you have only 10 days to 2 weeks, you can go to Kabul (2 days) -> Bamiyan (3 days) -> Kabul -> Mazar-i Sharif (3 days) -> Kabul. Ghazni seems like an interesting place to go, with lots of historical sites, check An Historical Guide to Afghanistan for more information. Kabul is a nice place to spend more time. If you have one week, it's still nice to go to Kabul and Bamiyan only.

GETTING THERE AND AWAY AND AROUND

International flights fly from Kabul to Dubai and Islamabad, a flight to Urumqi is coming soon in 2003. Domestic flight from Kabul to Herat costs $130 (or $34 for local). There are some flights operated by the United Nations but extremely expensive, e.g. flight from Kabul to Herat costs $650! The land transportation, options are otobus, Hi-Ace, TownAce and shared coralla taxi. The bus is usually cheaper but takes longer time, some bus can be quite nice inside. Hi-Ace and TownAce are basically the same, but Hi-Ace is cheaper but more crowded. TownAce (pronounced as TUUN-NACE) is around Af30 more expensive but takes only 7 people inside. There are AT LEAST 3 land-crossing borders in Afghanistan open for foreigners, one from Herat to Iran, and one from Quetta to Kandahar, the most popular one seems to be the one from Peshawar to Kabul via Jalalabad. I've used the last one only, check the section below for more information. You may have difficulties to find a car in the end of Ramazan (Eid festival), or it tends to be more expensive.
 

FEMALE TRAVELLERS

Female foreigners don't need to wear a burqa (head-to-toe cover dress) but cover your head with a head scarf and no bare arms if you don't want to get too much attractions and better to travel with other man. Some suggest that foreign women should be conservative but never disguise as a local (e.g. wearing a burqa) as the Afghans will usually tolerate the outsiders doing stupid thing, but not the local women. Travellers can stay in the communal hall of local restaurants for free, but it would be very strange if a woman stayed inside, and you may have trouble to do this, even with other male travellers. An American NGO workers were gang-raped in Mazar-i Sharif, so be careful. And I haven't ever met any women (local or foreigner) eating in any local restaurants (only in restaurants for foreigners), I think it should be okay if you go there with your male friends, but I can't imagine how much hassle you would have if you go there alone. There's a beauty parlour at the end of the Flower Street, it may be interested to go inside, of course for women only.
 

ACCOMODATION

If you don't mind to lose a little bit of your privacy, you can stay at the main hall of most local restaurants at night for free, lock your luggage. Cheap accommodation costs around $3 - 5, which means no running water (use bucket), frequent power cut, dirty beds (but no bugs!). Expensive hotels costs $25 - 60, mainly for NGOs, with satellite TVs, hot shower and so on. You can always take a hot shower in the Hammon, the local hot bath, for Af 15. NGOs of your countries can usually offer you some "special service", e.g. taking a free shower, free internet, even free food, free drinks, nice chat, even a job offering.


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PESHAWAR (PAKISTAN)

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In case you go from Peshawar to Afghanistan...


PLACES TO STAY

Tourist Inn Motel near the Cantonment Station is quite a good place to stay, though at the time of our stay one Japanese lost $2000 in the dormitory, all Japanese said it was the son of the owner stole the money and the owner said it was the other Japanese who stole the money. Some Japanese wrote down something bad about the owner in the guest book so the owner just threw it away (but he said the book was stolen by a Japanese journalist). Lock your lugguage if you plan to stay there. The place is a favorite for backpackers and it's a place to meet someone to go to Afghanistan with you. Hot shower, free kitchen and a dorm bed costs Rs100, or double room for Rs250 (or Rs230 if you plan to stay for one month).

TRANSPORT FROM PESHAWAR TO AFGHANISTAN

The Khyber Pass leading to Afghanistan lies inside the Tribal Area, officially you need a Tribal Area permit to enter this area. You can arrange a tour at the PTDC or Tourist In Motel (about Rs2000/car, 4 people) but it's easy and cheap to arrange all the permits and car by yourself. Go to the Home and Tribal Department (opposite of Peshawar Museum, ten-minute walk from the Tourist Inn Motel), the office opens at 9am to 11pm, go there one day before your trip, get a permit from the interesting and talkative Section Officer, it takes only 30 minutes, they'll check your bag when you go in the department and you can't bring in your camera, so put it in the Motel (and lock it!). Then find a taxi (Rs500 - 600) and take the driver to the Political Agency on the day of your trip, the P.A. will arrange you an armed guard who will probably ask you for a baksheesh (Rs100), but you can really choose not to pay him because they are on their duties to take you there. At least this is the official way of going to Afghanistan for foreigners, but you can always go without a permit, but it's illegal so take your own risk. TO GO THERE WITH A PERMIT, take a bus near the Jan's Supermarket (near the Motel) to Kakhanai Bazaar (Rs5, 1 hour), there's an Hi-Ace (Rs50, 1.3 hr) near the Khyber Agency to Torkham border. The driver sometimes refused to take foreigners or charged them more but you should pay not more than Rs50. Never let the police saw you going with a big backpack, never sit in the front, don't ask too much questions (only ask "Torkham?"), use a head scarf to cover your face and head, no glasses, use local dress (Shalwar Kameez, which you can buy second hand from laundry shop for around Rs30 only!), and never go in a group. Note that if you are found out by the police in the Tribal Areas, the police will usually just send you back to Peshawar without penalty. The owner of the Motel claimed (though never believe him 100%) there was a Japanese who was caught inside the Tribal Areas without a permit and was charged $400 but I've seen some Japanese sent back from the Tribal Areas (in a group too) to Peshawar without paying any money.

TRANSPORT FROM AFGHANISTAN TO PESHAWAR

Just a few months before you can go back to Peshawar from Torkham border without an armed guard, but the rule's now changed. You need an armed guard and they will ask you to take a taxi (Rs600) but you can insist to take a bus to Kakhanai Bazaar instead (Rs50, you probably need to pay for your guard too).


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KABUL

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You can buy a map of Kabul easily in the bookstores in Kabul. There's a Kabul map at the back of An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, though more than 25 years old, it's still quite accurate. Note that the location of Pakistani embassy and Afghan Tourist Organization (ATO) has been moved to a new location.
 

ORIENTATION

Kabul is small enough to walk around on foot, but being so dusty and crowded at daytime, it won't be a bad idea to travel on taxi sometimes. Downtown is the area around Spinzar Hotel, all taxi drivers know Spinzar Hotel so it makes a good landmark. Cheap hotels and Central Post Office are around there. The Old City is south of the Spinzar. Chicken Street is 15 minutes away from Spinzar and is the place where you can buy souvenirs (mainly carpets), go a little bit north is Flower Street where you can buy imported goods, even Chinese-made soy sauce.
 

MONEY

The bank in front of Spinzar Hotel doesn't change money, there are a big compound of exchange shops near the Pul-i Khishti Mosque (10-minute walk from Spinzar), but the gold shops at the same area usually offers a better rate. Beware that they will usually tell you a lower rate in the beginning, check some more shops before changing money, and don't change too much as the Afghani are just too unstable. The Old Afghanis are not accepted anymore, so make sure you get none.
 

BOOKSTORES

There're some old bookstores in front of Spinzar Hotel, they sell maps and postcards and you can find "An Historical Guide to Afghanistan" for PRs220. Habibi Bookstore in Chicken Street is a little bit greedy and books are overpriced, but can be bargained down. Good English-Farsi Dictionary (Farhang Moaser) costs Af160 but with Arabic script only, which is good to show to local people, "Colloquial Persion" costs $6. You can exchange books (2 for 1, with a little selection...) in Behzad Bookstore (Flower Street).
 

EMBASSY

(Check the visa information above for more information about Pakistani and Iranian visa.)

China Embassy: Phone 2300109; Mobile 070277227, visa section opens, 15-minute walk from Spinzar Hotel. You can pay the visa in Afghanis.

Pakistan Embassy: 10-minute walk from Chinese Embassy.

Iranian Embassy: close on Friday.
 

INTERNET

Internet is available at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bagh-e Bala at $5/hour, Paktek in Wazir Akbar Khan at $4/hour and Mustafah Hotel at $5/hour. Try the NGO of your own country, they may let you use the internet for free.
 

TELEPHONE

(Check also the Post and Telecommunication section above). Local call made from hotel is usually free. Mobile phone number starts as 070.
 

THINGS TO SEE

"An Historical Guide to Afghanistan" lists some good place to see in Kabul, I highly recommend you to buy one. Here I just list some of my comments on the place.

OLD PALACE (near Bagh-e Bala):

Very much destroyed, but still quite stunning to see. You can still feel the glory of the Afghanistan 23 years ago, it's somehow quite sad to see a place destroyed like this. Try to find some postcards of the Afghanistan 30 years ago and you may want to ask for a stop on war.

ARG:

Can't go, it's an army station.

BALA HISSAR:

Can't go, it's an army station, but you can look from outside. Opposite of Bala Hissa is a village and quite interesting.

ID GAH MOSQUE, PUL-I-KHISHTI MOSQUE, SHAH-DO-SHAMSHIRA MOSQUE:

Interesting. You can buy some corns outside the SDS Mosque and feed the pigeons. SDS Mosque was rebuilt by the Turkish Government in 2002. Free entrance, but the Mosque is usually locked. You can go in the Pul-i-Khishiti Mosque, and you need to take off your shoes, but for "security reasons" you can take your shoes inside the praying hall, there's some shelves for shoes inside.

KABUL ZOO

Animals lovers would be very sad to see the condition, the only interesting animals are pigs (I've been traveling in Pakistan for 4 months before I go to Afghanistan, which means I haven't seen a pig for 4 months!). The lion is from China and the emergency food from London. Entrance Af5.
 

PLACES TO STAY

Spinzar Hotel is $20/single, with shared bathroom (hot shower), $40/room with balcony and hot shower. The location is convenient but not too many foreigners staying inside. Highly recommended is the Mustafah Hotel near Chicken Street, there's no sign outside but it's very famous. It's next to "Shoaib Photo Studio" and a pharmancy. Very popular for NGOs. $25-35/single, $40/double, $60/double with attached bath, all rooms have hot shower. Very good communal area for watching satellite TV, playing snookers, and chatting with other NGO guys. Highly recommended for low budget travellers is the Zar Negar Hotel. The price for local and foreigners are listed below (foreigners' price in bracket), the owner said he needs to pay "foreigner tax" for the police (for protection) and that's why foreigners should pay more! Af150 (Af300)/double, Af210 (Af510)/triple, sometimes they will let you to stay in a one-bed room for Af150. All rooms are without toilet and shower, use bucket water only, frequent black out. At night time if there's electricity, you can watch porno (satellite TV) at the reception! The owner said he's going to install TVs in some rooms soon! There's a restaurant inside the hotel compound and they have hot drinking water (usually free, but sometimes they ask for baksheesh). The staff can be very lazy at meal time and will just tell you to "boro, boro" (go! go!), talk to their boss instead, his name is Baryalai. Near Zar Negar Hotel is Jamil Hotel, they charge $5 per bed and the staff seems not as friendly as the Zar Negar folks.
 

PLACES TO EAT

The restaurant inside Zar Negar Hotel (with different owner) costs Af50 for pulao (rice with meat). There're some local restaurants and hawkers (selling chicken soup and mantoo, a Chinese dumpling) near Zar Negar Hotel. The food everywhere in the local restaurants are almost the same. If you don't mind to spend a few more money, Popo'Lano Italian Restaurant makes a good choice, Af60/soup, Af200/lasagna, Af220/steak, Af40/capaccino, bill are in   but not too many foreigners staying inside. Highly recommended is the Mustafah Hotel near Chicken Street, there's no sign outside but it's very famous. It's next to "Shoaib Photo Studio" and a pharmancy. Very popular for NGOs. $25-35/single, $40/double, $60/double with attached bath, all rooms have hot shower. Very good communal area for watching satellite TV, playing snookers, and chatting with other NGO guys. Highly recommended for low budget travellers is the Zar Negar Hotel. The price for local and foreigners are listed below (foreigners' price in bracket), the owner said he needs to pay "foreigner tax" for the police (for protection) and that's why foreigners should pay more! Af150 (Af300)/double, Af210 (Af510)/triple, sometimes they will let you to stay in a one-bed room for Af150. All rooms are without toilet and shower, use bucket water only, frequent black out. At night time if there's electricity, you can watch porno (satellite TV) at the reception! The owner said he's going to install TVs in some rooms soon! There's a restaurant inside the hotel compound and they have hot drinking water (usually free, but sometimes they ask for baksheesh). The staff can be very lazy at meal time and will just tell you to "boro, boro" (go! go!), talk to their boss instead, his name is Baryalai. Near Zar Negar Hotel is Jamil Hotel, they charge $5 per bed but the things are all the same as Zar Negar.
 

GETTING AROUND

There're some buses in Kabul but I really have no clue how they operate. A taxi to almost everywhere is around Af20-40, a taxi to the Airport (and the Afghan Tourist Organization) is Af40. A taxi to the several bus terminals (see below) costs around Af40.


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BAMIYAN

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An Historical Guide to Afghanistan has a very good and informative section on Bamiyan. Don't miss.


ORIENTATION

Bamiyan is a very small town and the two Buddhas are just about 15-minute walk from the Bazaar. All buses stop outside Mama Najaf Hotel.


PLACES TO SEE

Officially you need a permit to go up to the head of the Large Buddha (the one on the left hand side), it means you need to pay some baksheesh to the police and ask them to take you up. BEWARE: it's higher than 50 metres and the wall are full of cracks... There is a school and a hospital near the Buddha.

There's a very beautiful lake near Bamiyan called Band-e Amir, you need to hire a car to go there and in winter time the road can be dangerous.


PLACES TO STAY

Mama Najaf Hotel is probably the only good place that you can stay, but beware of the small thiefs there. One Danish lost his shoes in the hotel, three Japanese said someone entered their room (and they've locked it!) though nothing was lost. Always lock the door even if you just go to the toilet, not kidding, my small bag (with no money) was stolen when I went to the toilet! Clean room and nice blankets on the second floor is $10, you can take a maximum of 6 to 7 people inside. Rooms on the first floor are very dirty, $6 per room. Or you can stay in the communal hall for free though you should really bring your own sleeping bag. Food is available all day even in Ramazan.


GETTING THERE AND AWAY

Car goes from Police Socta Bus Terminal in Kabul early in the morning (5 to 7 or 8am), the trip takes 8 eight hours and costs Af230 (TownAce, 7 people inside) or Af200 (HiAce, very crowded). The road is quite bad.


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MAZAR-E SHARIF

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ORIENTATION

Mazar has been isolated from the other cities during the civil war, they had their own currencies (Junbishi, check Facts for Visitors for more information), not much was destroyed and the city is still in quite a good shape. It's a very small city and the landmark, of course, is the Shrine of Hazrat Ali.


PLACES TO SEE

Shrine of Hazrat Ali is on the back of new Afghani one. Entrance fee $5 but nobody checks at the side gate. Put your shoes outside (Af1) or bring a plastic bag. Inner chamber with the tomb of Hazrat Ali is open to Muslims only. Thousands of white pigeons outside the shrine, local say the site is so hol that a gray pigeon will turn white in 40 days if it comes here! If you are lucky enough you can see the Buzkashi match, the national sport of Afghanistan, the place is east of Mazar. The boss of Aria Hotel plays Buzkashi too, ask him for more information.
 

PLACES TO STAY

South of the Shrine is the Aria Hotel ($7/triple, Af150/single), clean toilet but no hot shower. Near Aria Hotel is the Aamo Hotel, $10/triple or Af400/double, no single room, hot shower. There's a hammon (public bath) NW of the Shrine, Af15/private room.
 

PLACES TO EAT

There are two restaurants near Aria Hotel, Af40 or Af50 for pulao. You can find a pickled carrot called "acha", the taste is very similar to Korean kimchi. You can even find some "mantoo", it came from China to Uzbekstan then to the northern Afghanistan, local will be very surprised if you tell them this story.
 

GETTING THERE AND AWAY

Car goes from Sara Shumari Bus Terminal in Kabul early in the morning (6:30am), an otobus ride costs Af200 (11 hrs) and TownAce costs Af300 (9 hrs). Even if you take the earliest otobus from Mazar, you'll arrive in Kabul at night, so it'd better to take a TownAce. The road is okay but you need to pass through the Salang Tunnel, if you are claustrophobia, you may want to take a plane, I'm not kidding! There's no public transport to Herat but you can hire a jeep for $170/eight people, you probably need to stay one night at Maymana.


    K O N G'S    S H O R T    N O T E   ON    A F G H A N I S T A N  (http://pazu.com/afghanistan/)


 

This is the end of the note. You can just print out the above and the following is just a postscript.

 

Isn't it nice to shoot an AK-47 in Peshawar? It's Kong, and do you see a dog on my shoulder? His name is A-fu whom I adopted in Islamabad of Pakistan, probably of Thai origin. I gave him the name A-FU because I wanted to go to AFUghanistan when I first saw him in a toy store. A-FU also means "wealthy" which is quite a common Chinese name. A-FU accompanied me throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, but unfortunately I lost him very mysteriously when I arrived home safely in Hong Kong. So, for the fun time given by A-FU, this website was made in the memory of him.

 

Here're my Asian photos: http://pazu.com/a/album.html

 

I've found some sites about Afghanistan prepared by other travellers, and they were kindly enough to have put a link to my note (and said my note is good), so as a gratitude I'm going to put their links here too:

 

http://www.kabulcaravan.com/

Very comprehensive, the author is the Lonely Planet researcher in Afghanistan.

 

http://talesofasia.com/afghanistan.htm

Interesting travelogs and other tales of Asia.

 

http://kuchispy.i8.com/

Another traveller to Afghanistan.