Transportation Adventures: Three Tales of Woe in Kampala, Uganda

Uber is available in Kampala. They offer both boda boda (motorbike taxi) and regular cars, but it sure didn’t cut down on the drama.

Boda Boda: From Bus Station to Protea Kampala

Uber currently has an offer on boda boda (motorbike taxi), and rides are going for 1500 UGX (~0.40 USD). After my 16+hr bus ride, I was too tired to wait for one to show up using Uber, so I simply negotiated a ride to my hotel for 5000 UGX.

I spent ~6 months studying/researching in Vietnam, so I am no stranger to the xe om (also motorbike taxi, available for hire on Grab) as a means of transportation, but the ride in Kampala was actually quite harrowing. I was very keenly aware of how unprotected my helmet-less head was, as we went through potholes, speed bumps, in the dimly-lit roads of hilly Kampala.

While this was not the worst ride of my life, I did deeply contemplate my mortality on this ride. I think potholes and dim streets are a lethal combination. Try it by all means, preferably in daytime – it’s actually the fastest way to get around with the terrible traffic in Kampala.

Kampala

Uber – What Could Go Wrong?: A Seinfeld Moment

I was supposed to catch a Modern Coast bus from Kampala to Kigali at 8 in the morning, with a check in time of 7.30. Based on the maps, it’s supposed to be a 15 min ride, so I rolled out at 7 am to hail an Uber. The Uber showed up at 7.30. He then detours to a gas station to top up his tank. He actually picked me up on an empty tank. It was like a scene from Seinfeld, in the episode, The Movie, where Jerry was trying to get to his set, and the taxi driver decided to fill up his gas tank.

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7.40: We roll again, but are then stuck in this terrible gridlock. I really considered jumping out, and hailing a boda boda for the last mile. Thankfully, we pulled into the bus station at 7.50. I was very thankful I didn’t miss the bus.

Modern Coast from Kampala to Kigali

My adventure started at the ticket office. The guy just wrote this on my ticket, “Namirembe Kobil”. He told me that’s where I was supposed to take the bus. What does that mean? It was my second day in Uganda, I have no context for understanding this set of instructions. So, I set out to figure this out. As it turns out, Kobil is a gas station. But once again, this set of instructions was about as clear as saying, “Let’s meet at Starbucks in Seattle”. For future reference, anyone departing from this particular location, I’ve marked it down. It’s the Kobil station behind the Kampala Central Mosque. You will see a Modern Coast office there.

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I booked the Modern Coast’s Modern Executive Bus from Kampala to Kigali. It’s supposed to be their second highest class of buses, after their Oxygen buses. I’d say the experience is not much better than the previous Modern Coast Bus from Nairobi to Kampala. I paid 51000 UGX (~13.50 USD) for the First Class on this bus (cheapest option). The VIP ticket was 60000 UGX.

The seating arrangement of this bus was 1-2, so the VIP seats were solo seats, while the FC seats were duos. Thankfully, this bus was quite empty, so I actually got both seats to myself. However, it was still quite a ride.

Modern Coast Bus

It might have just been my luck, but this bus was also filthy. Someone had spilled a bag of cooked rice on the astroturf carpet, so there was this giant pile of rice that was continually being stomped into the carpet by various passengers. Trash was also strewn everywhere by passengers, and there was no clean up. Although it was advertised as an AC bus, the AC was not turned on throughout the ride, so I opened the windows for air when it was not raining.

Modern Coast Bus

The bus pulled into the Kampala-Kigali Border Crossing at Katuna/Gatuna at 4 pm. The exit from Kampala was pretty quick, though things were a bit slower at Kigali. The immigration itself was actually quite fast, but Kigali custom officers were fairly thorough in searching through bags. I am not quite sure what they are looking for, but they did pretty much dig out everything in almost everyone’s luggage. They did leave my packing cubes alone, so I didn’t have to repack.

Katuna

The last two hours from the Gatuna border to Kigali was actually pretty rough. It involved a lot of hairpins down hills, and the bus driver was auditioning for Fast & Furious: Bus Edition. I don’t usually get car sick, but I was pretty sick by the time I rolled out into the Kigali bus station.

The ride from Kampala to Kigali took about 10 hrs – we arrived around 5 pm, because of time zone change between Kampala and Kigali.

This was definitely my fault for not researching, but there are other options, like Jaguar Executive Bus. They don’t seem to have a website, but their buses looked a lot cleaner inside when we were parked beside them at the border. Do check them out as an alternative to Modern Coast.

Don’t take these two articles’ experiences as a bashing of Modern Coast. At the end of day, it is what it is. I have experienced very excellent long distance buses in South America and China, and decent buses in Europe and Southeast Asia. Relative to bus travel in other parts of the world, Modern Coast required an adjustment in expectations. It has some things going for it – it is reliable, and its staff was polite and friendly. Just leave your expectations at the door and try to enjoy the ride.

Modern Coast Bus

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My Butt, My Sore Sore Butt: Bussing From Kenya to Uganda to Rwanda, 01 – 08 September 2018

Kigali Downtown
Oy! Saving money is hard. I am no longer in my 20s, and these long-distance buses really took a toll on my old bones. I was definitely cussing at myself throughout the bus journeys, telling myself I shouldn’t have been cheap. Here’s the breakdown of my trip to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Total cost

30,000 IHG points: 2 nights Crowne Plaza Nairobi on Points break (2 x 15,000)

40,000 Marriott Rewards Points: 2 nights Protea Kampala pre-deval (2 x 10,000); 2 nights Marriott Kigali pre-deval (2 x 10,000)

6619 UR points: 1 night in 5 Swiss Kigali, booked through Chase Rewards

$85: $59 transportation + $26 food

Itinerary

01 September 2018: Nairobi, Crowne Plaza Nairobi

02 September 2018: Nairobi, Crowne Plaza Nairobi

03 September 2018: Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda (by Modern Coast Bus), Protea Kampala

04 September 2018: Kampala, Protea Kampala

05 September 2018: Kampala, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda (by Modern Coast Bus), 5 Swiss

06 September 2018: Kigali, Marriott Kigali

07 September 2018: Kigali, Marriott Kigali

08 September 2018: Kigali, Rwanda to Cairo, Egypt

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Bus from Zvartnots International Airport to Town

Price: 300 Drams

Distance: 15 km/10 miles

Time taken: ~30 min

Frequency: every 30 min?

Bus Number: 201

Where to find the bus?

From Yerevan Zvartnorts International Airport

The Airport Express Bus is located at Arrivals level. It is on the island beyond where the taxis are lined up. You should see the signage fairly easily. It costs 300 drams, and there’s wifi and credit card advertised. I wouldn’t count on it. I paid cash.

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

From Yerevan to Zvartnots International Airport

I boarded at Yeritasardakan. The bus can be “found” opposite the SAS supermarket. It makes several stops along Abovyan, Amiryan etc, Kilikia central bus station. (more on this later)

An article online suggests that the frequency is half hourly. I’d say, it shows up when it shows up, and it really depends on the driver. When I went on a mission to locate the bus the day before, one driver was waiting at Yeritasardankan, and departed on the dot at 13.00.

When I actually went to take the airport express bus from Yeritasardakan, the driver was 5 min late. And although Yeritasardakan is actually the first stop, he didn’t actually make a hard stop. Thankfully someone else was also looking for this bus, so he stopped when she flagged him down. In the other “stops” that he was supposed to make, he just made a quick visual scan, and kept driving.

If you are planning on taking the bus from other stops, be sure to be standing by the side of the road, scanning for the bus.

I’ve posted some maps of where to find the bus.

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At Yeritasardakan, wait across the street from SAS supermart, right by the underpass.

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On Abovyan, wait around the benches opposite the Singing Fountains.

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17,000 Bumps on the Road: 16 hr Modern Coast Bus from Nairobi to Kampala

Modern Coast Bus

My Fitbit registered 17,000 steps that day, and yet, I did not walk. Also, by 10.30 pm, I have developed a vehement hatred for DJ Perez. How did all this happen? Let’s go backwards.

The Pre-Journey: Booking a ticket with Modern Coast Bus (1 day before)

I was researching buses from Nairobi to Kampala, and Tripadvisor suggested that Modern Coast was a VIP option. Well, it’s VIP relative to other options, which I’d summarize as Guatemala chicken bus – you might have someone sitting on your lap for the journey. For the price you pay on Modern Coast, you will have get an assigned seat, and nobody will sit on your lap (unless you want them to).

I tried booking the ticket online, but their credit card payment system was unavailable. Hence, I schlepped it down to their office in Nairobi. They actually have two offices, and for some reason or other, Uber drivers keep trying to drop me off in their shittier location, which is nestled amongst other buses leaving Nairobi as well. Why is it shitty? Well, in the 5 min I was there, I got asked by some asshole to “Teach me some kungfu”, and another guy tried to grope me. Not fun.

In the first location, I was told, cash only. I decided to try their main location, which is about 20 min walk from the first (shitty) location. Although they pasted the Visa/Mastercard logo outside, when I got to the counter, I was told, “Cash Only”. So, then I had to pull up a map, and tried to find a forex exchange on a Sunday (not a good idea). Fortunately, I saw a Standard Chartered ATM, walked in, got some cash, turned back, and bought my ticket. I got the third last seat (the bus ended up full). I bought a “Business Class ticket” (essentially their cheapest ticket) for 2400 Kenyan Shillings (~24 USD). They have more expensive options of First Class (3200 KES) and VIP (3500 KES). First class is wider, while VIP is even wider and usually solo seat with more legroom.

The Day of the Ride

I showed up at the ticket office at 6.30 am, and there was a bus waiting there. A good sign. At about 7 am, the bus driver checked off our names, and we were off on time. The VIP bus is … just okay, to put things mildly. There is a power outlet if you want to charge your electronics. Otherwise, it was rather dirty. But having seen other buses heading in a similar direction, it’s more VIP than other options.

The ride was bumpy, and I would say that it’s actually a good thing. Some of the bumpiness is from the condition of the Kenyan roads, but a significant portion of the bumpiness is from speed bumps along the road. Given the driving speeds and style of rounding corners at high speed, I’d say that this safety measure probably prevented a lot more automobile accidents. How bumpy was it exactly? Well, I have a Fitbit Flex 2, which basically measures significant vibrations as steps. On most normal car journeys, it registers a big fat ZERO. But at around 2 pm, I actually got awoken by some mad vibrations on my Fitbit (I set it to alert me when I hit 10,000 steps) – I had hit 10,000 steps that day, but I did not actually move.

The bus pulled into the Kenya/Uganda border at around 4 pm. The Kenya/Uganda border crossing is actually super easy. The Kenya exit immigration and the Uganda entry immigration is actually in the same room. So you stamp out at one counter, and shuffle over to stamp in at the adjacent counter. It was to my amusement that the Uganda immigration booth actually had an A4 sheet with “Countries that do not require visa” pasted in their little booth. When I handed over my passport, the guy just scanned that sheet, and gave me a stamp. It did avoid many an officer calling/flipping fat ringbinders to check Singapore’s status.

There were some other minor adventures along the road. It rained for part of the journey. It wasn’t particularly heavy rain, and it wasn’t sustained as well. This was about when I discovered that the window insulation of the bus is not the best. The light rain actually seeped through the bus window. Thankfully, by this point, a number of people had gotten off the bus at various stops, and I could scooch a little away from the window, and prevent myself from getting wet. If it’s the rainy season in Kenya, you’re well advised to pick a non-window seat if you don’t want to get drenched.

At about 8 pm, I guess the driver had gotten bored, and decided to start blasting his funky jam, which is fine, except it’s the same damn song on auto-repeat. It goes somewhere along the lines of:

“I am DJ Perez, I’m fucking awesome”

“Say my name”

[female voice in monotone – I suspect robot, or maybe it’s Siri’s side gig]

“DJ Perez”

After about 2+ hrs (before we finally arrived in Kampala) of listening to DJ Perez tell bored female to say his name, I was done. I don’t know who the hell DJ Perez is. I sure as hell was glad when I finally rolled off the bus 16+ hrs later.

My Fitbit thinks I walked 17,000 steps that day.

Oh, and I hate DJ Perez.

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Bye bye, butt. Bye bye, sense of humor

The Closest I Got to Flying a Private Jet: Review of Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson (Nairobi) International Airport (ZNZ-WIL)

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

Flight Time: 2 hrs

Aircraft: Dash 8

Seat Number: Can’t remember, it was unassigned, and by the time I got on, only seats in the last 2 rows left.

I am fairly reliant on Google Flights for checking my flight options, but sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to check out Orbitz or Expedia. In this instance, Orbitz actually threw out a very surprising option – Safarilink – an airline I’ve never heard of. Despite my initial reservations about this, there were several factors that made a perfect choice:

    • Price and convenience: This was the best option by a long shot. It was half the price of Kenyan Airlines (check), and while it was some $20 more than Fly540, a budget airline, it was a direct flight.
  • Timing: Kenya Airlines flights were either too early, or too late. This one left in the mid-afternoon (~4 pm) and would arrive in Nairobi before it got super late.
  • Convenience: It flies into Wilson Airport. I never knew about Wilson airport before this, but as it turns out, it’s a small international airport for Nairobi. The Wilson airport is a lot closer to town, and being a small airport, I figured immigration will be less of a nightmare (true).

I arrived some 3.5 hrs before the flight, and at about 3 hrs before the flight, someone showed up at the check in counter. After locating my name on a list (yes, a print out), I was then given this laminated card as my boarding pass, with no seat number. Yes, just a laminated card with nothing else. No boarding time, no boarding gate etc. Interesting.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

At about 1 hr before the flight was supposed to depart, I rolled down from the lounge. About 45 min before the stated departure time, a small plane with “Safarilink” written on its body landed in the small Zanzibar airport. A guy then yelled out “Safarilink”, and about a dozen people lined up. He took our boarding cards, and led us to a small aircraft.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

The Dash 8 has about 8 rows of 2 by 2 seats, and a 9th row with 5 seats. There were more seats than people, so we all spread out. I was one of the last to board, so I ended up on the second last row, with a free seat beside me. Because the plane is so small, and everyone on the flight was present, we actually departed 30 mins before the stated departure time, and landed in Nairobi 30 min early as well.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

During our short flight, the one FA also rolled through with a cart, and gave everyone juice boxes, water, nuts, and a small snack. We arrived in Nairobi 30 min before our stated time, which was nice, because there was still daylight.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

The Wilson Airport is tiny, and is home to other smaller aircrafts. The immigration was just one person, but with a dozen people, it didn’t take her long to process everyone.

And this, to date, is the closest I’ve gotten to flying on a private jet.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

The Timeless Elegance of Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Elite Status: Hyatt Globalist

The Park Hyatt Zanzibar a 5-star category 5 Hyatt property located in Stonetown, Zanzibar, and is a short, 20 min walk from the ferry terminal. The property consists of two main buildings, an old wing, and a new wing; linking the two wings is a courtyard with a huge mango tree that’s a 400 years old. There’s also a third building with the gym and locker room.

The old wing is a UNESCO heritage building, and has very unique architecture. There are also some rooms, although I didn’t ask to see if the rooms looked any different. I was assigned a room in the new wing, which also houses their lounge and restaurant. This beautiful, white property by the beach has gorgeous terraces with glorious sunset views, and an infinity pool that creates the illusion that you’re adjacent to the ocean.

I stayed here for two nights using cash & points (20,000 WoH points + 250 USD)

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Check In/Check Out

Pretty fast. They went through the formality, whereby the property manager came out to welcome elite guests. I am not sure how I feel about this – I am an extreme introvert and get awkward very easily.

Check out was fast, no problems with the bill.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Room

I was upgraded to a beautiful suite in the second level of the new building. The suite is one of the largest suites I’ve stayed in. Upon entry, there’s a guest bathroom to the right, and a long entryway with a work desk.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

To the right, is the living room area, which has a console for coffee/tea. They supply an Illy machine, along with a mini-fridge. They also stock water in large glass bottles, which are replenished daily. The living room has an oversized sofa set, a small dining table, and a lounge chair. On the coffee table, there were a few jars of snacks (nuts, dates, cookies), and on the dining table, there was some fruit. During evening turndown service, a small slice of cheesecake was also left in the room.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The bedroom and bathroom are to the left. The bedroom features a large King-sized four-poster bed with a mosquito net. There’s also a small dining table and another lounge chair. There’s also a good-sized balcony with views of the sea, and a table and some chairs for sitting outside.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

It’s actually hard to describe, a lot of Park Hyatt Zanzibar’s charm is in the details. For instance, the trunk by the bed had the most beautiful wood carving; the decorative lamps hanging in the bedroom were gorgeous, and the artwork was in the room was easy on the eyes.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Bathroom

The bathroom is open-concept, and features a single sink, bathtub; the toilet and rain shower are enclosed within the bathroom. It’s possible to open the wooden sliding doors of the bathroom, and soak in the tub while looking at the bedroom.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

They stock Inaya Zanzibar toiletries in larger glass bottles. The bath products were excellent.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Food

Breakfast is complimentary for globalist guests, and was served from 6.30 – 10.30. The service was excellent, as was the food. There was a nice variety of high quality food, which rotated a little during my two-night stay here. Their juices are amazing.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

There’s also made-to-order eggs, waffles, and crepes. There’s also a special cocktail hour from 6-8 pm on Friday for “invited guests” (no idea what that means – I did get an invite), but I didn’t attend.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Service

Service was impeccable. In my experience, Park Hyatt service is based on anticipating needs, and personalized service. They started remembering my preferences by the second day.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Amenities

There is a beautiful infinity pool that seems to meld into the sea. The temperature of the pool is also perfect.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The gym is on the small side of things, but 24hr using key card access, and has everything you might need for a work out.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The changing room was surprisingly ratty, though. I probably caught the cleaning staff in an off moment.

Overall

This hotel is an architectural stunner. The rooms are also beautiful with a certain understated elegance. The suite is one of the largest I’ve stayed in. Service was for the most part flawless. The Park Hyatt Zanzibar is definitely entering my books as one of my favorite hotels.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

For the full set of pictures, please click here.

In Tanzania for some R&R: 3 Days of Luxury in Tanzania, 29 August 2018 – 01 September 2018

Zanzibar

No, I didn’t visit the Serengeti, no I didn’t go for a safari. I did, however, walk around Stone Town in Zanzibar. More than anything else, I just read and rested in my hotel suite in Park Hyatt Zanzibar. If you are here to read about visiting wildlife in Tanzania, move along, nothing to see here.

29 August 2018: Johannesburg – Blantyre – Dar Es Salaam (JNB – BLZ- DAR)

30 August 2018: Dar Es Salaam – Zanzibar. You can read about my night at Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam.

31 August 2018: Stonetown, Zanzibar. You can read about my two nights at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar.

01 September 2018: Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport (Nairobi)

Zanzibar