Tag Archives: southeastasia

What not to expect from the French city of India – Pondicherry

India has a touch of so many worlds, it has got a place for all cultures, people and religion and it is always a visual treat to witness such an amalgamation. One such place is Pondicherry, after years of wanting to visit this place, last month (February 2017) I finally found myself in this tiny French colony of Pondicherry.

How to Reach: Best way to reach is to travel to Pondicherry from Chennai. Chennai is at a distance of approx 170 kms. By bus or car its takes 3-4 hours. Best and cheapest option is to travel by bus, bus tickets range from Rs 100 – 400 depending on the type of bus. For a more comfortable journey you can hire a car for an expensive fare of Rs 3000 one way.

Matri mandir in Auroville

What not to expect in Pondicherry: 

Well, to be honest when we hear about Pondicherry we picture pastel colored French buildings and architecture, lovely bakeries and a hip culture. Upon visiting this place I realized that this is only partially true.

This is not GOA: Sometimes Pondy is compared to Goa due to its beautiful beaches and influx of foreign tourists. But unlike Goa, Pondy doesnot have shacks like Goa, nor a late night pub or club culture. The beach side cafes and restaurants close at 10:00 PM dot. The ones not beach facing have a buffer of 1 hour and close at 11:00 PM exact.

‘Tiny’ French colony: The most popular part of Pondy is indeed very very small with a capital S. The rest of Pondy except Heritage town in pretty much like a typical, regular south indian city,  so do not expect an extensive French town full of beautiful buildings.

Early nights: Pondy is not the best for the lazy souls. The beach side restaurants shut down at 10:00 pm dot or else expect to be almost thrown out. If you wish to push your nights a bit longer past 10 pm, best bet would be to dine and wine at one of the not so beach side cafes\restaurants to be able to chill till 11 pm. But! Do expect an annoying waiter to be over your shoulder every 10 mins reminding you its time to leave once it is past 11  pm

Language problem: In case you are not  able to find a hotel or accommodation in Heritage town, be ready to struggle a bit, well lets make it quite a bit owing to the prominent language problem. Hindi and English are not commonly spoken except for specific areas in Pondy. I being an Indian had a tough time moving around in the city, imagine what it might have been for someone not from the country.

A teeny weeny bit less hospitable: Okay this is only my personal opinion and no one needs to agree with it, also maybe these opinions are due to specific experiences I had, but nevertheless somehow I had instances in restaurants and hotels where I faced some reluctance or lack of warmth while addressing lets say an issue I was facing. Maybe its the influx of foreign tourists and dollars that has attributed to this or something else I am not too sure about.

I would like to add that hope this post does not discourage anyone from travelling to Pondy, rather it should help you from getting disappointed by setting the right expectations about this tiny lazy extremely pretty French city of Pondicherry.

 

 

What you need to know about the ‘Crazy markets of Bangkok’!

Seriously, there is just one word to describe the Bangkok markets: Crazy!!!
I had one night in Bangkok! Since I was staying in a hotel in the commercial side of Bangkok, it was the best chance to explore the market scene of the city. After checking into the hotel, and resting a while I set off to explore the markets in the afternoon.
Now what’s so crazy about the Bangkok markets?

Well there are several markets situated at pockets not very far off, but what’s crazy is that they all have different opening timings, few shut off at 2pm, a few at 4pm, another at 6pm and some at 8pm. So if you think of wandering into a market aimlessly it won’t work because you might as well find out that the market is closed or about to close. And that’s exactly what happened to me by the time I reached one market that was closing, I had to rush rush rush to the other one, resulting in waste of time and not being able to shop well.

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So if you are off to Pratunam market make sure you are there well before 8pm because that’s from when the market starts closing down. It’s a famous market for shopping of clothes, more like the fashion district. It stretches into alleys in circles like a puzzle maze and its very easy to get lost and keeping looping around the same alley, so my suggestion is start from one side of the market and proceed ahead if you do not want to get caught in circles. Pratunam stretches from alleys into a shopping center usually selling goods in bulk, more quantity, lower the price. Buy 3 instead of 1, you are sure to get a better price.

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Next up is Pantip Plaza, I wouldn’t say I was very impressed by the rates here, being an Indian and having shopped in India, Nehru Place market in Delhi, India seemed to be by far much better an electronic market than this one. Also what I noticed was that the shop keepers were a little impolite and moody, suppose they din’t want to sell their stuff to you, they would quote an absurd price, naturally leading you away. Nevertheless, its worth a visit, the market is vast and totally full of electronic goods. The plaza starts closing down at 8:00ish pm.

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After dark shopping head to Khao San market, it is one market that opens in the evening as stays up till midnight. I found Khao San market lively and friendly at the same time. The shopkeepers are polite, friendly and warm. Shop for souvenirs, gifts to your heart’s content. It also has several restaurants, and it’s a delight to see the variety of cuisines it has to offer.

Bangkok will never be the same without its thoroughly crazy markets!

One night stand with Bangkok

One night stand with Bangkok

What do you do when you have one day in Bangkok and want to make the most of it, how to come up with an itinerary that makes full use of the time. Not having the luxury of too many days leaves from work, me any friends planned a 5-6 days trip in Thailand, a perfect break! According to our itinerary we had 1 day in Bangkok! And trust me we made the full use of each minute! So here we go..
The Flight:
We had booked an early morning flight, well early in the true sense. Kolkata, India to Bangkok flight, departing at 12:05 am. We had a Spicejet flight that cost us really cheap, but this was the worst flight experience in my life. To start with the seats were unusually cramped up. For a 5feet 4inch figure too it was extremely difficult to sit properly due to excessively less leg space. The flight somehow managed to have all the unruly passengers at once. There was a huge group of middle aged men who were the loudest and the most uncouth, lets blame the mid-life crisis for that. Anyways the flight was on time never the less. We arrived at 4:00 Bangkok time. The flight duration was 2 hours roughly. After a smooth Visa on Arrival process that roughly took us about an hour, we were all set to step out into Bangkok.

The Taxi ride:

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Pink taxis plying on the road

 The taxi service was pretty smooth, after having booked a pre-paid taxi we were utterly pleased to be directed towards a striking Pink Taxi. What more would be so pleasing for a bunch of girls at 5:00 in the morning, more than a hot pink taxi. That just set in the right mood. The roads were empty, clean and the sky a gloomy blue. The taxi driver was a pretty old man with wrinkles with a very warm smile. Yes he did not understand a word of English. So we have to wake our sleepy brains up to try and explain him where we needed to go. We had a hotel reservation near Khao San road. Unable to understand us and vice-versa we showed him the hotel reservation printout, although he was unable to read it. He did take help from a passerby to read him out the direction. He had lovely Thai music playing, we did not understand the language but it calmed and relaxed. Our first pic in Bangkok was one with the pink taxi taken by the driver!
Morning in Khao San road:
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Board at a cafe in Khao San

We arrived at the hotel which was perfectly place on the main road, no alleys or hassles to find out the hotel, since we had reached

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Open air street side cafe!Lovely place

early at around 7:00 am. And the check in time being 12:00 pm, we had a lot of time to laze around until we got a room. So instead we munched on a few freebies kept in the waiting area, had some fresh coffee and headed out to explore what was around. The morning walk felt lovely, fresh air, empty roads, it was just the best start to a lovely day. We kept walking by closed shops, eateries and banks until we met a guy, whom we asked if there was any market place nearby. Fortunately we were a stones throw away from the famous Khao San road. We fastened our pace. And we knew we had reached Khao San the moment we could see restaurants with lazy tourists like us and colorful eateries, roadside stalls selling local food. The road sides were lined up with tables and chairs, with empty, some full with people busy enjoying there morning breakfast.

We walked across the several restaurants admiring the various unique decors, names and themes that each place had. The entire stretch of the road somehow had a unique freshness and warm feeling to it, very welcoming and bright.
We decided upon a unique place that caught our eye. It had a very welcoming living room type décor with super comfy sofas and waitresses dressed in pink, by now pink had already seemed to become the color of Bangkok. We ordered continental food but to our surprise it was lip smackingly delicious.
There were a couple of there tourists too who interacted with us, clicked pictures with us as well. Well the one think I loved about eating in Bangkok. You do not need to pay taxes. What a relief to be able to pay for exactly what you eat, also that almost all of these places offered free wifi. Sipping on some fresh juiceOn our way we could not stop having a few tall glasses of freshly made fruit juice.
By the time we were back in the hotel it was 11:00 am and were allowed an hour early check-in.
Chao Phraya River ride:
Chao Phraya River
Chao Phraya River
At the hotel we all took a quick one hour nap while the other was in the shower, that way we had our share of power nap while utilizing the time. We were ready in sometime and also set to explore the traditional side of Bangkok, also referred to as Old Bangkok. We asked the hotel receptionist for directions around old Bangkok, and they were really helpful to guide us with all necessary details and a map.
And we took off, admiring the many shops on the way and after making our self a quick coffee and ready to eat noodles easily available in the departmental store. Within 10 minutes of walking we reached the Chao Phraya River side. The hotel guys were so helpful in advising us to not take a tuk-tuk (local 3 wheeler transport) which would cost us around 100-150 thai baht, and instead go via the quickest and cheapest transport, the ferry which hardly cost ur around 10 thai baht. Not only that the ferry ride is too beautiful. The river side if full of big fishes which is amusing to watch.
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Imagine yourself in a ferry and any direction you see there is heritage and tradition and the culture of the Bangkok. The ride itself seems like an attraction. One of the local guys helped us identify the ferry with a reddish orange flag as the one that would take us.
Old Bangkok:
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Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho
Old Bangkok is mesmerizing with architecture that is intricate and colourful. Old Bangkok is house to most of the famous attractions like, the Grand Palace, the inspiring beauty of Wat Phra Kaew, the traditional learning centres Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat, the latter widely considered one of Thailand’s first universities and a centre for meditation. Sanam Luang, a historic park next to the Grand Palace traditionally used for important Royal or Buddhist ceremonies, and the National Gallery. We deboarded from our ferry at the Grand Palace.
Grand Palace is an epitome of wonderful thai architecture. Its intricate detailed work and maintenance is commendable. It still hosts important ceremonies today. After Grand Palace we headed to Wat Pho.
 Wat Pho or better known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a must visit just to witness the magnitude and massiveness of the place. Please be aware that all these places have strict dressing rules, women are required to not wear short or revealing clothes. Although Wat Pho has the arrangement of a robe incase you are not dressed appropriately for the place. But yet it is advised to either carry a cover up change or clothes like we did as advised to us by the receptionist or be dressed in not revealing clothes. You are also required to take off your shoes before entering. What strikes the most about the place is the massiveness of the reclining Buddha. The figure is 15 metres tall, 46 metres long, so huge it would make you wonder how it even got inside the building. The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha. 108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.* The rest if the area too is big enough and worth taking a walk through. There are many English speaking guides but I felt its better to gain knowledge about the place online than waste 200-400 TB unnecessarily.
While these 2 attarctions were on one side of the river, the next place Wat Arun was on the opposite side of the river. We again took the cheapest and quickest way out to the other side of the river by the ferry at 3TB, it opposite to Wat Pho. Make sure to keep Wat Arun at the end of the list since it looks stunning during sun-set when it lights up. When we arrived it was still sunlight. Same dressing rules apply.
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun is not only beautiful but adventurous too. The Temple has a unique structure and architecture. As you start climbing up the stairs of the temple the stairs start becoming steeper and steeper, and the stairs gets narrower. It does get scary at the heighest point, we did muster up the courage to climb up but trust me looking down the stairs was pretty scary. There is a railing to hold onto for sure, I would suggest don’t miss the climb. BY the time we got down, it was just about sunset, as we made ourself comfortable on the lawn on the banks on river Chao Phraya, the temple lit up. It was so inspiring as symbolic to us to be present there to watch it light up against the setting sun.

Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight!
Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight

After we were done soaking in so much tradition and beauty of Thai architecture and culture we knew it was time to enjoy the night-life. Since the ferry services last only till around 7:30 pm we had to make a quick chase to get back to Khao San via ferry, we were lucky to get onto the last ferry. The river ride is even more beautiful at night with the spires of the Thai architecture lit up all around. We go of and headed towards Khao San. Its transforms into a different place at night. Unlike morning it was bustling with energy and tourists of all kinds and places. The energy is infectious that it gets onto you. After an entire evening of walking and climbing we settled down for an obvious foot massage, very easily available at evry 10 minutes distance. Trust me the foot massage acted like an energy bar for me. As it it took away all the exhaustion. We set off to explore almost the entire stretch of Khao San, it has amazing clubs and eatries. We tried the local pad thai noodles and must say it was cooked to perfection.

20141127_201348 You can also find many vendors selling fired crickets, flies, scorpions, cockroach, but incase you are 20141127_201404not a fan of fried insects you can click a picture of them or with them for 5-10 THB. Now that’s business!

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Sea food platter! YUM!
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Street side delicious street side noodles

You can see restaurants, bars, clubs of all sizes, colors and styles, and most of them seem pretty inviting with great continental or local thai cuisine. Indian food is usually expensive there. For shopping I would suggest this is not the best place as its on the more expensive side. Shopping for souviniers is easy though as bargaining is possible. With this we ended our one day in Bangkok, we made the most of it and loved every bit of it.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry on the other side of Bangkok.
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