Tag Archives: travel

Koh Phi Phi & Phang Na Bay

Koh Phi Phi Island & Phang Nya Bay

 Well if you are in Phuket for a short stay and do not take these 2 tours, you are surely missing out on a lot of nature’s versatile creation.

One of the days during our stay in Phuket we opted for the Koh Phi Phi Island tour, we had already booked the tour from an agent in the airport for a good bargained price. The day to Koh Phi Phi began really early, the tour guys arranged for pick-up and drop to our hotels, the pick-up happened at 7:00 am, too early after a mad night at Bangla Road. With swollen eyes and an empty stomach and several pick-ups later we headed off to the pier where our speedboat was waiting for us.

 After a complimentary coffee and snacks and a handful of ‘how not to die’ instructions in Thai-lish (Thai + English) language we were off to explore this side of the Krabi province, Koh Phi Phi is ideally a collection of 2 large and few smaller islands as told to us by the cruise guide.

One tip: The seats inside the boat are not allotted, it is on first come first serve basis, so if you are interested to not get charred and burnt sitting outside under the tropical sun, you might as well want to grab a seat inside the cabin area asap. I did the mistake of sitting outside for a better view and ride at the expense of my nose that got tanned severely.

The first leg of the ride is calm overlooking vast expanses of blue as far as one can see, just sea and the sky around and above, it is after a good half hour ride that we could start to notice the pinnacle shaped massive rocks protruding out of the blue, it does look like a place something out of Avatar.

 The boat stops at Maya Bay, popular for the shooting of the movie ‘The Beach’. Here usually they let us go snorkeling for a while with gears provided by them. Although snorkeling here was pretty disappointing as there was no coral nor much fishes around, maybe due to the disturbance caused by the boats. We were served juices and cold drinks in the boat, no restrictions on how many you have, water bottles were provided as well.

We stopped at Phi Phi Don for lunch, the menu comprised of noodles, soup, chicken for main course, vegetables stir fried and a couple of other items, washroom facilities and free water was available as well.

 After lunch and some more time we headed off to the Viking Caves and then over to the Coral Bay. We were given free time here to do as one wishes, while we were lazing around, we saw quite a many people with head down under water. We figured this place as the name suggests was famous for snorkeling, without wasting time we headed off to get our snorkeling gear.

 What happened after that was sheer pleasure, once we started to snorkel we realized this place was abundant with coral life and fishes of beautiful colors and sizes, the water level was waist high with a bed of sharp corals, so be careful to not set your foot anywhere without seeing or you might end up cutting your feet like I did. You can carry a piece of bread or fish food to attract the fishes towards you, something a lot of tourists out there were trying. The beauty of the underwater still remains alive in my eyes. What was lovely about snorkeling here was that since the water is waist high, its safe to snorkel on your own, there are no instructors to direct you or no time limit on how long you remain under water which was the best part.

As we headed back one of the helpers in the boat started throwing some food into the sea, until 2 minutes we could not understand why he was doing. Within 5 minutes we could see a fleet of huge sea birds, not sure about the name of the kind, following our boat and making sharp dives into the water, picking up a piece of food and flying away. Watching them was so liberating, it looked something like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie.

After our journey back to the Pier we got dropped off back to the hotel, the tour costed us around 1000 THB per head.

Next day early morning we headed off to Phang Nya Bay, the main attraction being James Bond Island.

After a late last night we hardly managed to not miss the pick-up in the morning for the trip. Sleepy eyed and with an empty stomach we pulled ourselves out of bed and headed off to another day at the sea. Having slept on our way to the pier, we woke up directly at our drop off point at the pier. Luckily complimentary coffee and snacks was available as a relief. After a quick safety session by the leaders of the boat, we headed off into the sea. The sun had no mercy on us even early in the morning. We grabbed the front deck under the sun in the speedboat, although this time we were well equipped with loads of sunscreen. Few hours into the ride, we were wide awake, all the sleepy feeling was soon gone as soon as we spotted the rocks protruding out of the waters, quite similar to the scenes out of Avatar. A handsome layer of skin tan later we reached Panak Island, here we climbed into a canoe along with a guide who paddled us into dark caves and into hidden lagoons, the experience was spectacular, this was the first time I was doing something like this and it was such an adventure like experience. We were all handed a helmet with flashlights, it felt nothing lesser than a Nat Geo guy on cave discovery mission. Its fun when the othe canoes pass you by and usually gently nudge into each other, reminded me of striking cars in an amusement park.

We headed off to the world famous James Bond Island after this.

On reaching here first we noticed the 66 foot tall islet called Ko Tapu which seemed to be a tourist hit, as it was crowded with tourists posing for pictures in front of it.

Right across it is the famous rock jutting out of the green waters called the James Bond rock made famous by the scene from the famous 007 movie. We dint really stop here for too long, a few quick snaps later , which is difficult to manage as it gets crowded around the rock, we shopped a little at the local stalls around, it does make sense to buy a thing or two from the local stalls there as it is the source of livelihood for the locals there. We were back into the boat and headed off to the Naka Island.

Lunch was served in the mean while in the boat itself. Well the lunch episode is quite interesting, a good, tempting spread of food was laid out; noodles, a big sea fish grilled and dressed to perfection, vegetables, soup, desserts and quite a few other tempting items. Since we were to busy chit chatting, we thought to get lunch after 5-10 mins. It turns out that after 5-10 mintues, the food was gone, only the fish bones were left behind. The food was attacked by all our hungry co-passengers. Although we managed to eat, but quite a few items were not being refilled, like the grilled fishes. So bad luck for us, but good luck for you guys now that you know what to do..as soon as the food it laid out, go for it ;).

So we had to do without it. So yes, ‘when the food is served’ – Attack! 😉

Few snaps from the canoeing into the caves:

Assam – The hidden beauty of North East India – Photo Journal

Assam – The hidden beauty of North East India – Photo Journal

Having grown up in Assam, and having spent a considerable amount of my childhood there, I sometimes really miss the greenery, the clear skies and untouched beauty of  this north east Indian state. The beauty of Assam can only be witnessed rather than described, it is naive and simple. Even a random walk in a village is would to etch ones memory forever.

These are a few moments I captured from my recent trip to Assam and the simplicity in the beauty is profound, see for yourself!


Inside Rang Ghar in Sivasagar, said to be one of the oldest surviving amphitheaters in Asia built by the royals of Assam, the mixed hues of green and brown are enough to tell a tale about how old this place is.


Cannons used during wars of the Ahom Dynasty in Talatal Ghar, Sivasagar. So much of history behind these cannons, yet they have withstood time. 


Out on a walk into a village around Sivasagar, I happened to capture what I would call a perfect image of serenity. I still have it up as my laptop wallpaper, in someways the gradual mix of the blue skies into the green fields relaxes my eyes every time I look at this picture.


Some places are like hidden gems, and this is one of them. Tilinga Temple in Tinsukia is mystical in so many ways. Tie a bell, small, big, medium whatever size you choose and and it is said your wish will be granted. I was amazed by the sheer volume of bells that were tied, bells were dangling from everywhere I could set my eyes on.


Lord Shiva is widely worshipped in Assam. How could I not visit one!


If one have ever read a little about Assam, they must have come across Majuli, the largest river island in the World, and soon eroding.


The most popular way of showing respect to anyone in Assam is to present an Assamese gamosa (kind of white towel with red borders). I was lucky to witness one in the making by the locals at a village.


Kamakhya Temple is one of the most famous temples in India and strongly believed upon by the Hindus. In itself it is a tourist attraction too.


Kaziranga National Park, the world’s only sanctuary with the largest population of the one-horned Rhinos. A visit to Assam is incomplete without a visit here. The landscape inside is untouched and stunning!

As I was about to leave the National Park after visiting the lazy rhinos, I spent some time with this pair of elephants, the mother and the baby.


Assam is spectacular, and these memories and many more will always capture a special little place in my heart!

 

Quintessential Phuket

I remember watching the James Bond movie’ The Man with the Golden Gun’, and going all gaga over the location and the scenery. I wondered where on earth this paradise existed. Few years later the beautiful rocky pinnacle island became famous as one of the best tourist attractions. I have noticed that somehow when people plan on visiting Thailand on a budget trip, they usually opt for Bangkok and Pattaya. I guess they fail to realize what they are missing on by leaving out on Phuket.

We planned a trip to Thailand and reserved a good few days for Phuket. Having spent a few days in Bangkok we headed off to Phuket. We took an early morning 6:20 am Air Asia flight from Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok to Phuket, which was pretty okayish for the price we paid, we paid around 2500THB as return fare, the flight takes around 1hr 20mins to  reach Phuket. The view from the flight itself is mesmerizing, the bluish green ocean below and the greenery surrounding the runway is breathtaking and refreshing. The Phuket airport welcomes you with fresh blooms in every corner, its exactly what your sleepy eyes need, we left for the Bangkok airport at 3:00am in the morning, quite natural we needed this dose of freshness to get the day started.

Al the airport entrance!

 Pretty much like in India, in Phuket too inside the airport very soon we were surrounded by travel agents trying to strike a deal for the inland tours. After talking to a couple of agents we started to negotiate with an agent, we were correct in our decision of booking the tour packages from Phuket itself because as we had expected they were much cheaper than the ones online. After bargaining a little we striked a deal: 2 tours (phi phi island and James bond island tour) plus the airport pick up and drop free, seemed like a good deal. Our taxi was a sleek Camry, with a uniformed driver, fortunately he knew how to speak broken English which was a relief, he later told us that instead of booking our tours from the agent we could have booked one from the Thailand tourism office in Phuket, (so for all you guys reading this, its advisable to book your tours from the tourism office, cheaper deal). The way from the airport to the hotel  is gorgeous, big palm trees lining the smooth rippling roads, quite a splendid ride I must say.

Patong:

At the Patong beach during sunset with grey clouds in the horizon

 

A shop in Patong selling everything in pink

 Our hotel was in Patong, the prime area in Phuket. After freshening up we set out to explore the surrounding. The place is beautiful with wide palm lined roads, the hotels are spaced far from each other, hence not congested, the rippling roads and the greenery around, quite a delight. We started walking and it took us just 10mins to reach the Patong Beach, the beach road is lined up with numerous restaurants and bars, shops and flee markets, we planned to survey the entire market on foot in search of beachwear, well the choices are so many that it drives you crazy. What type do u want? Hot, covered, tiny, skimpy, one piece, 2 piece, its got it all, the shopkeepers are a little reluctant to bargain, but do give in after sometime, one con: no changing rooms available so buy at your own risk. We also found a few good souvenir shops selling massage oils, soaps and candles of very interesting shapes and sizes, if you know what I mean ;). If your heart is set on either of it, go for it since these kinds are available only in Phuket. We walked past the beach road into Bangla Road, in the day time it is like any other road with happy tourists and bars and clubs, but Bangla Road usually comes alive at night. It took us a good 3-4 hours to stop, check, buy and go around the entire market and back to the hotel. But I must say I was very pleased with the collection and variety of clothes and accessories Patong market has to offer as compared to Bangkok. Although keep calm as I found the shopkeepers sometimes being arrogant and rude. Another good thing about the place is it has 7-Eleven store at every kilometer, and its quite a life saver, for anything you need on the go.

 Bangla Road:

As the evening set in, we got all dressed up and headed off to Bangla Road, it is a straight stretch of road about a kilometer long I guess, and as expected it was booming with tourists and music, some playing live, some playing on the road. The place was bustling with energy. Everywhere you look there were pretty females all dressed up, standing infront of their respective bars or clubs with a menu in there hand, having heard a lot about Bangla Road for a lot of wrong reasons, I would like to mention that I found the place fun and happy. It’s a matter of choice, if you do not show interest I did not notice anyone trying to get too pushy, which was good. It’s a great place to go dancing and let your hair down. Almost all clubs have a counter in the front with females doing pole dancing, some doing rain dance. But yes, you cannot just walk into a restaurant playing music and get dancing, you are compelled to buy something, maybe a drink or too, if not there will be a waitress nudging you every few minutes with ‘what would you like to have?’. So either enjoy the fun from outside, or buy a namesake drink to have fun inside the clubs. Food and drinks are usually good and quite surprisingly you can bargain in that too.

As you walk further, you will be greeted with a huge walking street projector, which is quite a hit there, as you walk by it you can see yourself in the projector, pretty awesome it feels.

 Further ahead you will see an array of clubs lined up with really flashy pink, red and blue lights which is the Tiger Club, usually it charges an entry fee but has really good music and cheap drinks.

Tiger Club in Bangla Street

Outside we saw a small group of street dancers showing their moves, on the other side there was a ‘who hangs the longest from a pole’ gets a free drink, and a lot of people trying to earn themselves a free one.

As the evening turns to night, we saw a lot of lady boys dressed in cabaret costumes take to the street; they no doubt look very loud, extravagant and glamorous at the same time. Clicking a picture with them or of them is usually chargeable @ 10-20thb.

An image of one of the performers from far

We also found a lot of what should I call them , agents maybe who invite you to watch the adult, nude shows in their clubs, 1st 15 minutes of the show and a drink free. We too went into one, I would only comment that the show is very very interesting and weird at the same time, I would suggest my readers to experience it on your own instead of reading it 😉 Once in and one drink down they offered us a 2nd one for a whooping 900thb, shocked we started to leave and as soon as we got out of the club, a waiter ran after us and offered to reduce the price to 100thb for the 2nd drink. That’s the kind of bargaining that happens there, so next time before paying for something, give it a try maybe you will end up striking a really super deal.

For drinks and food we tried something different, there are many open pink vans selling drinks and food on the beach road, its fun to eat there after an exhausting night in Bangla Road.

One of the open pink bar van

The people are usually friendly and helpful. I must say that Patong has a good equation of people from all countries, quite a cultural mix. Upon recommendation we also went to Banana Club on the Beach Road towards Bangla Road, unfortunately we found it very disappointing, there is 200-300thb entry fee which covers a free drink or shot, but apart from that the club was totally empty.

The big banana in front of Banana Club

It seemed like entire Phuket had headed off to Bangla Road 🙂 No wonder its the most popular place in the city!

Corner Courtyard – Review

India has a rich and long standing colonial past, and there are some gem of places where one can dine & wine in the company of such old world charms. One such place is the colonial looking pretty place perfectly named ‘Corner Courtyard‘ and conveniently tucked into a corner in Hazra, Kolkata. This place is often hailed for being one of the most romantic places in the city and I might as well agree!

The Space: If you are a fan of cozy, bright and white colored interiors, if colonial old world charms appeals to you, and if you are looking for a quiet romantic meal, this is your place. The place has a striking interior with white walls with mirrors and frames hanging on them, huge dangling lights, big windows and a shelf full of travel books of India and Kolkata, the most unique look of the place is the wall with a 100+ door knobs of all shapes and sizes, pretty chairs all in shades of pastel; all this put together, it works out to be a perfect place for a cozy family dinner or a romantic one with that someone special.

A wall full of mirrors
a quaint corner with a window
The interesting wall of Door Knobs
a fitting menu

Food & Drinks: The place specializes in continental cuisine, in fact one of the places in the city serving Italian and French cuisine pretty close to authentic. My favorites!core they serve really loaded and well done bruchettas, the pizzas and pastas can be ordered without second thoughts. Watch out for the Grilled chicken ‘The Californian’, it sure tasted as well as it sounds.

What’s unique: Definitely the huge wall full of colorful door knobs of all shapes and sizes, such a stunner!

Watch out for: It is best to ask the waiters for the best options available. I have tried to not listen to them and order as per my liking but I was kind of disappointed, so it is always to best to ask!

Pocket Pinch: The quantity is typically European in nature, by which I mean very measured and this left me with a feeling that the hit on my pocket was on a harder side. A dinner with drinks for a couple could be anywhere around Rs 3000+. Quite expensive with a rather not so full stomach!

What not to expect from the French colony 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.
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.

Must Visit Places in Singapore – Part I

Must Visit Places in Singapore – Part I

  1. Marina Bay

Singapore has a place for everyone and for the ones interested to indulge in a bit of luxury, Marina Bay Sands is the perfect destination. It is a one of its kind integrated resort which rules the Singapore city skyline. It consists of three 55-storey towers of luxury hotel rooms and exquisite suites. It also houses the Sands Sky Park which forms the crown of the three marvelous towers. The Sands Sky Park provides breathtaking 360 views of the city from the observation deck. If you splurge enough to be a guest at the Hotel, you can experience the unique feeling of swimming in the infinity swimming pool overlooking the horizon at a height of 200 metres. One of the luxury must try experiences in Singapore is taking a dip in the pool while the watching the sun go down across the horizon. Indulge in shopping at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, which has the largest collection of coveted designer show rooms and boutiques in Asia. Immerse your taste buds in exotic fine dining options, which includes restaurants by celebrity chefs, fine dining or casual eateries.

Stunning Laser show at Marina Bay Sands at night

For those interested in Science and Arts head to the Lotus inspired building, ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, it is well known for the highly accoladed exhibition FUTURE WORLD: Where Art Meets Science. The museum is host to many blockbuster touring exhibitions that explores creative processes at the heart of art, science, technology and culture such as Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, Collider and more. Ground attractions include the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, featuring stunning performances for world-class entertainment. 

  1. Clarke Quay
Dazzling Clarke Quay at night

Nightlife in Singapore is always buzzing with action. Clarke Quay is one of such places and indeed one of the best places to be in after sunset. It is the nightlife and party hub of Singapore. Sparkling with dazzling lights, partying people and jazzy nightclubs, Clarke Quay is one place you don’t want to go home from. It is booming with a host of unique bars, concept restaurants and pubs along the Singapore River. Originally a centre of commerce along the Singapore River, Clarke Quay is nowadays a hub of restaurants, concept bars, retail stores and entertainment outlets. Go for a drink at the Bamboo Bar at The Forbidden City or Lunar Asian Fusion Bar which has got great shows, or Bar Opiume at the Empress Place by the riverside and for a late night out dancing and drinking drop in at the Attica or Canvas. 

 

  1. Gardens by the Bay

Step into the future at Gardens by the Bay, it is a pompous, mammoth colourful futuristic park encompassing 250 acres of land on the waterfront of Singapore. Famous for what is called the Supertree, these structures form an extravagant skywalk over the gardens, 9 to 16-storey-tall vertical gardens that collect rainwater, generate solar power and act as venting ducts for the park’s conservatories.

View from below of the magical Gardens by the Bay

Huge seashell-shaped greenhouses create temperature dipping hilly climates and there are innumerable trees and plants of various species to be discovered, cool-dry climate of regions like California and South Africa, and boasts more than 32,000 plants comprising some 160 species, cultivars and varieties, is also  world’s largest columnless greenhouse. Besides ultra-modern design, the conservatories also use cutting-edge technologies for better energy efficiency. Not to be missed is the cool, misty Cloud Forest Dome, with its 35-metre-tall “Cloud Mountain”, covered in orchids, ferns and bromeliads and containing the world’s largest indoor waterfall. If you dare, take the OCBC Skyway, a suspended 128-metre-long walkway between two Supertrees, for a bird’s eye view of the park. This destination is a perfect fun place for both kids and adults alike. The most spectacular view of the Gardens is visible from the top of the Marina Bay which happens to be directly opposite the park, it’s hard to miss the sprawling 101-hectare lot right by the water in Marina Bay. . This dazzling light and sound show takes place nightly amid the Supertrees. Then dine at romantic Pollen in the Flower Dome, glamorous Indochine at the top of the Supertrees or Satay by the Bay for hearty local food. Getting here is easy, either via walkways from the hotel, giving you an elevated view of the gardens, or taking the slightly longer riverside promenade to enter the park near the two domes. The park entry is free of cost except for the climate controlled greenhouses or for a walk amongst the Supertrees, for which there is a charge. The main park area is open from 9:00 to 21:00.

  1. Raffles Hotel

One of the most iconic places and old buildings that contribute to the heritage of Singapore is the luxurious Raffles Hotel. It is a colonial-styled and has a long standing history dating back to 1887 due to which is has become one of the most significant Singapore landmarks. It has an interesting list of celebrity guests that have graced the hotel consisting of the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth II and the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Iconic Raffles Hotel

The Raffles Hotel has 103 suites and 18 distinctive restaurants and bars. It also has a brilliant arcade with over 40 international designer stores like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, etc. Having a Singapore Sling at the Bar in Raffles is a heritage experience that one could indulge in. It is here that ‘The Singapore Sling’ also regarded as the national drink of the country, was first created in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

The World famous ‘Singapore Sling’

Primarily a gin-based cocktail, the Singapore Sling also contains pineapple juice as the main ingredient, along with grenadine, lime juice and Dom Benedictine. Giving it the pretty pink hue are cherry brandy and Cointreau. 

  1. Merlion Park

Hailed as Singapore’s national icon, the mythical Merlion with the head of a lion and the body of a fish is an unevitable statue that cannot be missed, seven in total placed around the city. The Merlion is a reminder of the beginnings of Singapore as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, meaning ‘sea town’. Its head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay. Visit the Merlion Park to get a closer look at the legend of Merlion. Spouting water from its mouth, the Merlion statue stands tall at 8.6 metres. This icon is a ‘must-see’ for tourists visiting Singapore, similar to other significant landmarks around the world. Built by local craftsman Lim Nang Seng, it was unveiled on 15 September 1972 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the mouth of the Singapore River, to welcome all visitors to Singapore.

The most famous picture that depicts Singapore

But with the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the statue could no longer be viewed clearly from the waterfront. So in 2002, the Merlion was relocated 120 metres away from the original position to where it stands in Merlion Park today, in front of Fullerton Hotel and overlooking Marina Bay. The park also houses a smaller Merlion statue. Known as the ‘Merlion cub’, it stands at 2 metres tall and weighs three tonnes. The original sculpture and its cub are the most well-known among the seven approved Merlion statues in Singapore. 

  1. Singapore Flyer

If you are in the mood to fly in the sky and take a spin in the air you must go to the Singapore flyer. Standing out in the Singapore skyline, the Singapore Flyer is not just another orb. Asia’s largest giant observation wheel provides some of the most magnificent views of the city. Located at the heart of downtown Marina Bay a complete spin takes one as high as 42 storeys. Step into this thrilling ride which consists of one of the 28 fully air-conditioned glass capsules, and be raised for a 30-minute spin overlooking stunning day and night scenes. Grasp the enchanting views of the city and the iconic and historical landmarks such as the Marina Bay, Singapore River, Raffles Place, Merlion Park, Empress Place and the Padang are visible.

Don’t miss the sky high ride for a complete bird’s eye view of Singapore

On clear days many of you might also be able to spot landmarks far away like Changi Airport, Sentosa Island and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia as well. Imagine dining amongst the clouds, this is something the Singapore Flyer offers, you can have high tea, enjoy fine-dining or sip on cocktails and Champagne on the Singapore Flyer’s special in-flight packages. Also an interesting mix of entertaining experiences such as a flight simulator and a fish spa are also available. Once you land, done miss visiting the Singapore Food Trail, a unique 1960s themed food street offering famous local fare such as ‘bak kut teh’ and Hainanese chicken rice. 

  1. Resorts World Sentosa

Want to go wild and crazy with no dearth of things to do? Resorts World Sentosa is the place you should be headed to. It is an integrated resort experience designed to keep the whole family enthralled. The key attractions includes the Universal Studios theme park, Adventure Cove Water Park, and S.E.A. Aquarium, which includes the world’s largest Oceanarium. It also has several dining options with various themes when you are hungry. This is not just it, the resort also has a casino. Try your luck the Bond’s way.  One is sure to get drained out after all the activities, to rejuvenate yourself take a break and pamper yourself at a spa or better book a stay at one of the hotels in the resort itself which has couple of jazzy hotels. Some of the not-to-miss places you have to indulge in are:

  1. Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore is Southeast Asia’s first Hollywood movie theme park. It is a spectacular assembly of extravagant adventure rides and huge selection of attractions and entertainment for both families and adventure seekers. Majority of the rides here are specially designed for the Singapore Park. The theme park is home to seven block-buster movie-themed zones, and each one of them is designed with a lot of detail and very close to movie avatars. It also has a fantastic Hollywood Walk of Fame at the Hollywood zone, you would feel as if you have ventured into New York, the landscape transforms into impressive city skylines, including a replicas of subway entrances. Feel the power and adrenaline rush of being in a real movie like set up and feel the action and thrill and the powerful special effects produced by Steven Spielberg.

Breathtaking rides: Sci-Fi City features the blockbuster ride TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle ride where you get to fight evil forces in heart-pounding 3D combat. Next step into the Ancient Egyptian world and come face to face with mummies and beetles in an indoor roller coaster in total darkness – ignite your senses here. Looking for your favorite animated movie character, meet them at Madagascar and prepare to be drenched in a wet river boat ride.

Thrills and spills: Performances here are equally spectacular. Kids will fall in love with the Shrek 4-D Adventure at Far Far Away. This cinematic experience lets you feel the action of the movie. Fond of Spielberg’s dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park series, walk into The Lost World and witness death-defying stunts and explosions in the live performance in the Water World. I am sure these thrilling rides will leave you exhausted, rejuvenate your energy between the attractions and step in to the many themed restaurants across the parks. 

  1. The Adventure Cove Waterpark

Is a water lover’s paradise; it has an extremely well maintained world class Marine life. This includes the S.E.A Aquarium that is abode to over 100,000 marine animals. The Adventure Cove Waterpark is a dream place with thrilling wet and wild rides. The very cute Dolphin Island, where you can interact with the friendliest mammals. History lovers can visit the Maritime Experiential Museum to learn about Asia’s rich maritime history and Singapore’s past as a trading port. At night immerse yourself in the mesmerizing display of water, fire and light at the Lake of Dreams and the Crane Dance, where mechanical cranes transform into birds through a journey of love.

Continued in Part II….

 

Singapore – Getting There

At a Glance

 

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Singapore is a stunning and beautiful island strategically located in the heart of South East Asia which also happens to be world’s only island city-state. This breath taking island is one of the most popular and busy travel destinations in South East Asia. It is not only of great commercial interest but also a booming tourist destination as it sees travelers dropping in from all around the Globe.

Singapore boosts of an interesting mix of uber modern architectural marvels as well as age old temples and traditions. Not to be fooled by the size of this tiny island, it has a lot to offer with innumerable options to choose from. It is like a parallel universe residing together all in this small city.

On one side the city skyline is clouded with tall skyscrapers and modern state of the art structures such as Marina Bay Sands, a three-towered skyscraper that is a vital part of Singapore’s horizon, Resorts World Sentosa which is home to the very famous Universal Studios theme park, and the majestic Gardens by the Bay and many more such iconic places. On the other hand there are the humble century old buildings like the elegant Raffles Hotel still standing tall more than a century after being built. This island state was a former British trading post and colony and even after independence and the blend of cultures is ingrained in all aspects of life in Singapore.

The cultural blends are strongly visible in the food scenario most prominently. Cuisines from all around the world are available. Alongside world class fine dining restaurants offering international cuisines, the street food available here is also finger licking good. Due to its vicinity with other South East Asian countries the food culture in Singapore is an amazing confluence of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. One can escape the hustle and bustle of modernity in Singapore by visiting the very exotic Chinatown and Little India to get a flavor of the neighboring Asian countries.

How to get there

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Visa & customs:  For information on visa requirements and the Visa Free Transit Facility, you can visit and check with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority or the Singapore Overseas Mission in your city or country. The visa application form is available for free at all Singapore overseas missions. For detailed information and requirements for entry to Singapore you can visit the Official website for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

By Air: Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the most busy and well connected airports in the world. It sees over 100 airlines flying to more than 250 cities around the world. Most of the well-known international airlines have their operations in Singapore. Few local airlines operate from Singapore such as the renowned Singapore Airlines and budget airlines Tiger. The airport itself is very well maintained and conferred with many awards, it boosts of modern amenities and activities for tourists and travelers making it a world-class attraction in its own way.

By Sea: Singapore is an important port of commercial interest due to its strategic location in the heart of Asia; it is one of the world’s busiest cruise centers. Several cruise operators of various kinds like luxury, premium, and contemporary types operate from here. The newest is the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore which can accommodate the largest range of cruise liners.

By Road: Singapore is also very well connected by roads; it can be easily reached from West Malaysia through a scenic ride. Two checkpoints need to be crossed before entering Singapore; one is at Tuas in the west and Woodlands in the north. They both operate 24/7 facilitating ease of reach to Singapore via road.

Getting around Singapore:  Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in South East Asia, it is fast, efficient and world class and is well connected;  enough to make reaching the various places in Singapore easy and comfortable without much hassle.

By train: MRT (mass rapid transit) system in Singapore is definitely the most efficient and fastest way to commute around the city. The Rail network is extensive and connects almost all the key attractions in the city. Tickets can be bought for single trips, for a mix of both rail and bus network one can buy the Singapore Tourist Pass, a value card which will allow unlimited travel for one day (S$10), two days (S$16) or three days (S$20). Cards are available for purchase at the Transit Link Ticket Office at the following MRT stations: City Hall, Raffles Place, Ang Mo Kio, HarbourFront, Bugis, Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, Lavender and Bayfront. The MRT stations and trains are well equipped with facilities to make travel smooth for wheel chair users, visually impaired, as well as families with strollers.

By taxi: Taxis are also frequently used and a common mode of transport especially for the places not accessible by buses or trains. Cabs run on meters, although it is advisable to check with the driver because a lot of them charge based on time, location and destination of travel and might also add surcharges depending of the company the cab belongs to. Make sure to ask for a receipt at the end of the trip. Taxis can be boarded from the roadside at most places, or by queuing for any of the taxi stands found at shopping malls, hotels and tourist attractions. Cabs can also be booked by calling at a common taxi booking number, 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222), which than routes the call to any available taxi company’s call centre.

By bus: The most economically viable mode of transport in Singapore is the bus system which is extensively connected covering all routes to places in the city. It is also a great and comfortable way to explore and see the city also because most buses are air conditioned, a very important aspect for traveling in the tropical climate of Singapore. Singapore Tourist Pass is commonly used to pay for the bus travels by using the card reader located next to the driver as your board and exit. Cash payments are also accepted but need to be exact change amount.

Singapore Visitor Centre: Three Singapore Visitor Centres in ION Orchard, Orchard or Chinatown are available in case you need help. Information on tips and recommendations to plan your itinerary, purchase tickets to attractions and tours are available here, also you can pick up locally designed souvenirs and book accommodation for your stay.

To be continued in next post ‘Must Visit Places in Singapore’

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!

Kashmir: At the time of Curfew

I have seen Kashmir in Bollywood movies and always wondered when I would get that chance to go there. It seemed like a piece of Europe in my own country India, enormous mountains, tall pine trees, rivers running in between the valleys, blue skies, shikara rides, gorgeous looking people and so much more beauty all in one place.

So I booked my flight and hotel tickets way back in the month of May to travel to Kashmir in September. September being a busy season in Kashmir and when I had booked my tickets in May the hotels were almost getting sold out. But as my luck would have it, curfew struck Kashmir in July. All the news channels and newspapers were flooded with news about the curfew. So I waited for a few months until August to check back on the situation, unfortunately not much had changed. Came September and a few days left for me to travel to Kashmir and by then the curfew had been on more that 50 days. With uncertainty and my wish to visit Kashmir, not knowing when next I would get a chance to travel to this beautiful place I decided to go ahead with my plans. I definitely did receive a lot of ‘are you crazy to go there now?’ type statements from various people I know. And so I did go..

As a result during my time is curfew stricken Kashmir I did end up busting a few myths about how Kashmir really is during curfew..Here is a detailed account of my days in Kashmir during curfew.

Day 1:

With an anxious heart and partially worried head I finally arrived at the Srinagar airport. I was greeted with the impact of curfew the moment I landed in the Srinagar Airport. While I was waiting for my luggage to arrive I happened to get acquainted with a local woman from there living in Delhi, we started chatting and boom came the question ‘What brings you to Srinagar?’, when she heard I was there travelling for leisure, she was totally livid! How could I plan to travel to Kashmir during the curfew, my reply as usual was that my tickets were booked way in advance and I wanted to take the chance. This was just one of those many discouraging conversations that followed later during my days in Kashmir.

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view from the flight

My houseboat owner arranged for my travel to the houseboat from the airport. On my way to the houseboat I noticed that all roads were totally barren and all the shops were closed. Except for the army personals there were no other people on the roads and not even one shop was open.  I reached my house boat and was greeted by the keeper with a warm smile. After taking some rest I discussed with the hotel people on what are the places I could visit.

The Mughal Gardens:

So for my first day I visited the Mughal Gardens. There are 4 gardens which make it up to the Mughal gardens. I would say a few of the gardens were beautiful with lovely blossoms of various kinds, although don’t expect too much, I must admit I was a little disappointed by a few too. None the less all of them are well maintained and have a heritage value so these are more than just gardens and rather monuments, lets put it that way.

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At the Mughal Garden
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All the lovely flowers in the Mughal gardens

Sankaracharya temple:

Next I went to the Sankaracharya temple, it’s a beautiful climb up the hills, it’s a 800 year old temple, clean and very well maintained, due to the curfew it was ONLY me who was there at that time, there were no tourists at all. And I loved the experience to be able to take in all the beauty all by myself. I realized I had not been in so much silence in a long time. The view from the top is breathtaking, the entire Dal lake and Srinagar could be seen from above, the peace and serenity of the place is contagious, I wish they would have let me click a picture of the view, I could not click any since it is a high security zone and cameras and phones are not allowed.

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Adoring the beautiful view from the view point on the way to Shankaracharya Temple

Sunset at Dal Lake:

On my way down, I spent some time at the Dal lake. The sun was setting and it was a mesmerizing view to behold, as the sun was setting the shikaras formed a silhouette and a perfect vision to take away with me for life.

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Mesmerizing sunset at Dal Lake

Shopping:

I planned to shop a little and since most of the shops were closed, our taxi driver took me to an underground store belonging to the co-operative, I must say the place was a steal, huge collection and very reasonably priced.  I almost bought everything in the shop! It should be a must visit place for anyone who plans to go shopping. I retired to the houseboat after this, on my way back I could see a few shops were open since the curfew would usually last from 6am – 6pm. Few shops were open and for a change I could see some locals on the streets which was welcoming to see. Although my plan to dine somewhere outside failed since all the eating places were shut down. So I settled in for a homely dinner at the house boat. I did enjoy my first day in curfew stricken Kashmir.

Details:

Airport to Houseboat transfer: Rs 500

Day tour of Srinagar: Rs 1500

Continued in Part II…Coming soon!