Nairobi: Payment, Transport, Holidays and Vaccinations

Quick share of my recent experience going to Nairobi and things to look out for.

Took Kenya Airways flight from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport to Nairobi. What was supposed to be a straight forward two hour lay over turned out to be a flight delay of eight hours. While it was quite frustrating to only find out at the counter, the good thing was the airline arranged for affected passengers to stay at the nearby Novotel hotel which I must say is quite nicely decorated and comfy for a transit hotel. The complimentary breakfast though was mostly just passable. 

Photo of Novotel Hotel Lobby at 1am
This photo was taken near 1 am, so it does not really do justice to the hotel

As for the flight on Kenya Airways, it was pretty straightforward. Towards the end of journey though, the interior lighted up in rainbow colours, which was quite interesting.

Photo showing the interior of Kenya Airways lighted up in rainbow colours
Rainbow Colours in the Interior of Kenya Airways Plane

Speaking of going to Nairobi or in fact, most parts of Africa, do take note that it is advisable for visitors to get yellow fever vaccination prior to the travel. In fact, the customs officer may spot check by asking to see the International Certificate of Vaccination, which is a small yellow booklet. While I did not get asked at the customs, I did see another traveler being asked for the booklet, and it seemed that because he did not have it, he had to pay a fine.

Another interesting phenomenon to note is related to payment. In Kenya, mobile payment is very common. In fact, they 
are so popular that most locals do not carry much money these days. The main service is known as M-PESA owned by Safaricom, with the other telco operators also offering similar services. You will need a Safaricom sim card and passport to apply and start using the service. 

If you prefer to continue using conventional cash, do note that the smallest paper note is 50 shillings, while coins are in denominations of 5, 10 and 20 shillings. If you are like me, you will most likely only have big notes from the currency exchange. This means difficulties in getting back small change when making payments. This is most evident when taking taxis, most drivers do not have much coins these days. That's why for rides, expect to round up in multiples of 50 shillings. Your hotel's reception desk may be able to help you break a big note into fifties but it would most likely not have change for small coins too. Otherwise, just treat the small change as giving a tip.

Another option for transport that I will recommend, at least upon arrival at the airport, is to use Uber. While you can choose to pay by credit card if you do not have enough cash, the main advantage is the pricing compared to other options. At the airport, the only licensed airport taxis are Yellow Taxis, which I have been told have hefty charges. The second option is the street touts lining up at the exit door, purporting to be better and cheaper than the Yellow Taxis, but end up still being quite expensive. For comparison, from the airport to my hotel, the street tout charged me 2000 shillings. For the reverse trip back to airport, I called for Uber and boarded at a further location, and yet ended up with only a 1000 shillings ride. Outside of the airport, taxis may not be easily found, so Uber is a hassle-free way of getting from point to point.

Last interesting thing to note is how some public holidays in Kenya depends on sighting of the moon. This means the holiday could be declared very suddenly and could disrupt your plans, which was what happened to me. A public holiday was declared two days before my trip but I had not realized that until I arrived at the airport. As a result, the event that I needed to attend got postponed too. So my business trip which was originally meant to be a two days quick turnaround got extended by another two days. So do take note to check local news a few days before your travel to see if something like this would happen during your period of visit.