By: Pu Mekpipat
When learning that I was visiting the less visited place, almost everyone fired tons of questions at me. Most of them disagreed with my idea because they might have heard things from the media, ranging from extremely different culture to the unrest they often witnessed.
Moreover, visiting Pakistan, especially visa application process, can be a bit difficult for Thai people. First, we must fill the form downloaded from the embassy website. Then, we submit the passport and a thick pile of documents at the Embassy of Pakistan in Soi Nana. After presenting all papers required, we must transfer the visa application fee at the bank in that Soi before returning to the embassy to get the receipt and visa appointment paper, which usually takes three business days.
You have to do all of these by yourself and cannot assign anyone to do it on your behalf. Does it seem a bit too complicated? Now you had better ask yourself that question.
After two of my friends had expressed their strong will to visit Pakistan, we, with air tickets and visa in hand, flew to Karakoram Mountain in one evening before the first winter breeze of the year caressed the country.
The foreigners cannot visit Pakistan by themselves. They need the tour agencies there to issue a guarantee letter as a reference document for visa application. My friend sent email to Altaf Travel Agency, asking them to arrange the program for us. After learning about our trip period, conditions, and needs, the agency sent us the program and total expense. We could choose either all-inclusive package consisting of transportation, fuel, tour leader, driver, food, accommodation, and permit or the package that included everything but food. After the negotiation, we confirmed the deal and prepared the money to pay the agency there. Once we arrived, we needed to stick with the agency throughout the trip. If wanting to go anywhere, we needed to ask for permission and present the permit to the officials at check points. With a car, chauffeur and tour guide, my friends and I could get around town as we planned, which followed the program almost completely.
For those who would like to visit Pakistan, I can summarize the following points based on my experience:
- Pakistan is a rather strict Muslim country, especially on the outskirts. The streets are full of men; all merchants and labors are men. Women always stay home. Going out in public are women in veil, which reveals only their big beautiful eyes, or pre-teen girls walking to schools.
- Pakistanis, especially men and children, are super friendly. They usually smile and greet you. Most of them like being a model. When seeing a tourist holding a camera, they always ask him or her to take their photos.
- Actually, Pakistan is a peaceful and beautiful country. It is not as frightening as what you have heard from the news. It is even safer than many neighboring countries.
- Young Pakistani men, especially in the North, are very good looking, with a perfect mixture of Middle Easterner, Westerner, and (a bit of) Chinese. They will remind you of Johnny Anfone or Mario Maurer but with darker look and hair from sideburns to chin and above the upper lip.
- Young Pakistani girls in the North are equally good looking. They will remind you of Pinky Sawika. You can find them anywhere (If they are fully grown, their beauty will be hidden under the veil.)
- The weather up north is very cold. I went to “Gilgit-Baltistan” in the northernmost part, with the border next to China, India, and Afghanistan. Moreover, it is surrounded by three Asian ‘giants’ – Himalaya, Hindukush, and Karakoram Mountain.
- I visited Pakistan at the end of October, which was fall season. Along the way, I saw the foliage and clear blue sky. The weather was cold. I went to bed in the temperature below ten every night and woke up with the vapor coming out of my mouth. People liked to have a sunbath all day long without caring about UV ray.
- At that time, one THB was converted to three PKR. This was different from the conversion rate of neighboring country like India, one THB for two INR. The tourists can exchange the currency at the airport or some banks. (Please ask the tour leaders for recommendation.)
- People there live a simple life. They buy things at the market or small grocery stores with cash while credit cards and debit cards are used in big cities or large shopping malls only.
- Those who feel like a “nobody” in Thailand will suddenly become a celebrity there. Every day, at least four or five people asked me to take photos with them. Some took a selfie while others shook hands with me and asked their friends to take a picture. The funniest thing happened on the last day of my trip. I asked the chauffer to stop the car to take a photo of the river. Then, almost twenty locals picnicking there left their meal and flocked toward me to take a photo with me. One person put a guitar in my hand as a prop while another gave me a pair of sunglasses. A guy even arranged the queue to take a photo with me.
- The best season to visit the North is summer, April to July. However, the temperature is still cooler than Thailand.
- With the strict Muslim lifestyle, an unmarried man and woman cannot be alone together. All tour leaders are male. That is why it is hard for female tourists to travel alone. For any ladies who would like to do so, finding a companion can be a good option. Moreover, you should leave hot pants or mini-skirts at home.
- The only airline flying from Thailand to Pakistan is Thai Airways International, which takes almost five hours. Arriving there at late night, you can rest either at the airport or Islamabad before travelling to Gilgit. On the way back, you will arrive in Thailand at 6 a.m. The time there is two hours slower than Thailand.
- While staying there, I ate chicken curry with (long-grain) rice and thick vegetable curry with flatbread called Japati or Naan almost every meal. Trust me …. It tastes a lot better than Indian food.
15. Karakoram highway is the world’s highest highway (from sea level) connecting Pakistan with China, with the total distance of 1,400 km.
16. The electricity in Pakistan is unstable. Many hotels have power shortage (including wi-fi) issue. They have to schedule the time to turn on or turn off the electricity. Some do not even have warm water.
17. Pakistan is quite dusty because it does not have sweepers, unlike Thailand. So, it is a good idea for those with allergy to carry masks.
18. Even though it is quite safe, you should be cautious and strictly follow the advice of tour guide. Personally, I buy travel insurance every time I go abroad and suggest you do the same. Believe me … Only a few hundred baht you want to save from the insurance is not worth it if any unexpected incident happens. This will prevent you from the regret … “If I had known about this, I would have bought the travel insurance.”
I do not try to convince you to pack up and apply for Pakistani visa. Based on my personal experience after spending seven or eight days in this country, I can conclude that Pakistan is a perfect choice for those who love adventure. However, I can guarantee you it is not that tough. (I found a group of retired folks from Thailand going there themselves.) The spectacular nature and friendliness of people is more than enough for me to get back there.