Tag Archives: photography

Our three Month Asian Adventure. India and Sri Lanka,

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After months of planning and deliberating the day has finally arrived when we embark on our three month journey through southern India and Sri Lanka. Starting in Kerala and its capital Trivandrum to the coastal resort of Varkala. Onto the Keralan backwaters near Kottayam. Travel by the famous toy train high up into the Western Ghats to the hill stations of Ooty and Coonar. Then onto the state of Karnataka to visit the UNESCO site of Hampi and it’s temple complex. Then travelling back south via Mysore, Bangalore, and into the state of Tamil Nadu and to the cities of Madurai and Trichy. Then back to the coast and to the town of Pondicherry “pronounced puducherry”. Then following the coast northward to Mallhabpuram. Then taking an hour long flight from Chennai “formally Madras” to Sri Lanka; “more on that later.”

We have arranged our trip the same way as we always do like keeping one eye on the cost, like staying in budget hotels, and travelling around on buses and trains. For example our current hotel The Safire Residency “grand name I know” is a basic no frills budget hotel, which is very clean, has really friendly and helpful staff, all for Just £23 for three nights.

We had saved for our flights and our accommodation. Which incidentally is an average of £20 per night for the whole trip. But in respect of spending money we are just living on the money we would live on in the UK. “In case you are wondering about work fortunately we are both retired. Transport costs are also amazingly cheap for example our journey on the toy train, “which incidentally takes around four hours up the mountain ” is just 0.79p for two people, and no that’s not a typing error.

Trivandrum

We decided to stay in Kerala’s capital city for three nights as there were a couple of things we wanted to see in the town, before moving onto Varkala, on the coast. Trivandrum does not have a great deal of things to-do but a couple of recommendations are:-

Indian Coffee house a coffee shop chain run by a series of workers cooperative, visit the one near the train station, as the building which it’s in is like a tower, with a spiral slope inside with all the tables along the wall.

Napier Museum situated in the botanical gardens and near to the zoo. Built at the end of the 19th century, a very ornate and colourful structure, housing a collection of ornate wood carvings and ceremonial masks dating back to the 15th century. A must see is the ornately carved temple chariot.

Sri Padmanabhasswamy Temple A very ornate temple, but unfortunately closed to non Hindus, but worth a look. Also it’s worth walking around the nearby streets and perusing through the many shops in the area.

Top Tips

On arriving at the airport make sure you go to the pre-paid taxi kiosk in the arrivals terminal to avoid being over charged by the taxi drivers outside. Also as the rupee is a closed currency, which means you cannot buy them outside of India, you have no alternative than to use the currency exchange booth in the airport. But just change up enough money to get you from the hotel into town as their exchange rates, are quite frankly, extortionate.

Getting around the town is easy, as there are many tuk-tuks plying there trade, the cost of which is very small. Also there are plenty of restaurants around most of which are pure vegetarian. We found an excellent restaurant near to our hotel called Aryaas it’s situated in the Aryaas Hotel and I can thoroughly recommend it. The food is good, and it’s very cheap. For example we had a vegetable biryani “one is enough to share”, two side dishes, two types of bread and a tomato salad, all for just £6.95.

We had planned to get the train to Varkala our next destination. So we went to the station to survey the situation and to buy our tickets, but unfortunately it appeared you cannot buy tickets in advance. As we were leaving the station we were approached by a nice friendly taxi driver and struck a deal to take us door to door for 1200rs around £13, which for a one and a half hour car journey was a bargain in our book.

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Xian and the Terracotta Army,

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Xian and the Terracotta Army,

The last stop on our trip was a return to China. As I said in my previous post, the reason we had a stop in China on our outbound leg and also our return leg was that we flew with Air China from London to Kuala Lumpur this was the best air fare we could find, and the fact, like most airlines it does not cost any more on your airfare to stop at the airlines hub for a few days, which in our case was Beijing.

On our return to China we decided not to stay in Beijing but to get the super fast bullet train to Xian to visit the amazing Terracotta Warriors. Whilst we were in Beijing at the beginning of our trip we thought it wise to visit the train station to purchase our tickets and to get the lay of the land so to speak, and also to purchase our tickets. Top Tip if possible ask at your hotel reception, or in our case the owners of the Hutong where we were staying to write down in Chinese your journey details, dates and times etc, as English speaking Chinese are few and far between.

The Xian train leaves from Beijing West to Xian North 16 times daily, so you have plenty of choice. Point to note. You cannot buy return tickets, just singles, the cost at time of writing was $77 each for second class one way, $154 or £114 return per person. We chose the 08:05 train taking 5hrs 48min to cover a distance of 756 Miles at speeds in excess of 196 mph very impressive. Although you would really not know that you were travelling that fast at all. We thought that the journey would take us through some nice and scenic Chinese countryside, but instead it was very flat and baron, quite disappointing really. To add to this the whole vista was shrouded by the infamous smog that the country is known for, but to be fair it did get a little better as we approached Xian where the region is a little more scenic. After checking into our hotel we decided to explore the city. Xian felt much calmer and slower pace than Beijing, and the people seemed a little more laid back. The must do’s whist in town “apart from the Warriors that is” is to visit the Bell Drum Tower, just amazing in the day time but spectacular at night. Another must see is the Muslin quarter, which luckily for us was just around the corner to our hotel, a truly amazing place with lots of diverse shops,restaurants, and street food vendors, selling what can only be described as “strange looking food” but a must visit.

Terracotta Warriors

On our first full day in Xian if was off to see the warriors. They are situated around an hour away by bus from the city,”possibly quicker in a taxi”. Getting the bus to the Warriors was not as straight forward as the guide book states. We arrived at the bus station and it was manic, crowds of people going about there daily commute, but I suppose like all bus stations really. Now our guide book suggested to get bus No 915 but the local map we were given at the hotel said to take bus No 306? We decided to join the queue for the bus 306. Whilst we were in the queue there were people with loud hailers trying to get you on bus 915, they were even trying to politely drag people out of the queues to get on there buses. We decided to stay put as there were a lot of locals in our queue, so we presumed they would be the ones to follow. It turned out the right decision as the 306 was like the map stated the public bus and the 915 was the tourist bus. But all that said if you want to take the tourist bus and stop at the other attractions on the way then take that one, it’s a personal choice.

The Warriors are situated in three large halls. A Top Tip all the images you see on tv and online of the Warriors are mostly taken in Hall 1, but someone told us don’t go to the main hall first, like most people do, but to visit the halls in reverse order, halls 3, 2 then 1. As by doing it this way you build up to the main hall. When you eventually enter the main hall you will be blown away. The only disappointment on our visit to the site was the fact that after you leave the site you are ejected into an awful man made replica of an old Chinese Market with endless tacky gift shops and fast food restaurants, with a long walk back to the bus. I suppose in reality the cost of restoring the site, and to pay for the on going restoration work it’s a small price to pay. Entrance fee at time of writing is 120¥ which is around £13.50 which is an absolute bargain in my book.

Click here for a very useful website explaining all you need to know about visiting

For more photo’s of the Terracotta Army, click this link to my Flickr page

Melaka 

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Melaka 

After our few days in Kuala Lumpur it was time to move on to the very nice town of Melaka. Melaka was a major trading port before Singapore took over, and was the main hub for trade in Maylasia. When you see the quaint narrow streets with its many architectural beautiful houses, along with it’s small narrow canal system it’s hard to imagine the town as a major trading hub. It has now become one of Malaysia’s tourist hotspots. Now you can visit Melaka from Kuala Lumpur, just as a day trip. As the journey from KL is only around one and a half hours to two hours away. I’m sure there are many tour companies in KL that will cater for this, but my suggestion is take the train or a taxi to the TBS bus station and take one of the many luxury buses that run down to Melaka, and for a fraction of the cost of a tour company ” the single journey cost 26 ringetts for two which is just under £3. I would strongly recommend not just to go for the day but to spend at least a couple of nights there, to really enjoy it. There are an abundance of restaurants and street food stalls to choose from, and also many shops. These are mainly along Jonker street and the surrounding area. One thing to mention is that Melaka is a weekend town for tourism, with many people coming in from KL even Singapore of a weekend break. During the week it can be a little quite. But the town comes alive at the weekend. One of its main draws is the weekend night market, which is held on a Fri, Sat and Sunday night.

Top sights

  • Night market, (Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
  • River Boat Trip
  • Illuminated Rickshaws
  • Jonker street
  • Reggae Bar

 

Kuala Lumper

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After our busy few days in China, here we are in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia’s capital for the next stage of our trip. We are staying at Summer Suites which is a 10 minute walk from the Petronas Tower’s and a five minute walk from the monorail. A perfect location for discovering the city. The one tourist attraction that I would recommend when visiting are the Petronas Towers for a great view over the city. We booked our tickets back in the UK which I would recommend doing. As firstly if you are only in the city a few days like we are you are guaranteed to the get the day and the time you want. Also as it is a popular tourist spot it can get pretty booked up, so you may be disappointed if you just turn up. On the visit your first stop is the “Sky Bridge” which is the walkway connecting the two towers. Next stop is the 86 floor and the “Sky Deck” which affords amazing views of the city. There is another tower in KL you can visit, and that’s the Menara tower. My suggestion is go up the Petronos during the day, and visit the Menara at night, this way you get to see the Petronos towers lit up at night in their glory. Other top sights to see in the city are. China Town, Little India and Batu Caves. China town is exactly what it says, lots of Chinese restaurants, shops and street food, a good place to go and explore, and to eat. Next up little India, much the same as China town, but you guessed it ” An Indian slant on things”. Now if it’s shopping you want then you could go to Petaling Market in China town, “it’s where all the guide books say to go” but in my opinion it’s overpriced and you get major hassle. You could try Central Market, but my Top Tip is take the monorail to Chow Kit station, which is in little India, and there is a market there. No hassle and the prices are a fraction of what they want to charge in Petaling street. Next  Batu Caves which is a short drive or train journey out of town. They are a must see. Here you will find a collection of Hindu temples inside. Entrance is free to the main cave, so don’t be enticed into buying a ticket from any of the dubious ticket offices.There is on exception however the cave to the far left of the main cave (just walk along the pathway in front of the car park) does have a small entrance fee, but it is well worth it. Just one thing to mention. The stairs leading up to the main cave are a little steep and in the heat can be a struggle, I did read that there was a cable car but I saw no sign of this. This said there are plenty of places to stop along the way, and I’m sure that the many monkeys which are running around along the way will keep you amused with there antics.

So if Kuala Lumper is a stopover on your way to further afield, don’t just use it as a transit stop give it a look

Taxi Scams One thing I should mention is the many crafty taxi drivers. It was almost impossible to get a taxi driver to put there meter on like all the guide books insist that you do. They all want to charge you a really inflated price to the correct metered fare. Now us on our travels either walk or use public transport. We tried once and he wanted a stupid price, we wasnt  going far, (we only wanted a taxi due to the the fact that we had been walking all day and our feet had, had enough) So I told him ” don’t be so stupid” and walked. So I suggest you download an app on your phone called grab taxi and book a taxi through the app. (You will need a data connection) An example of the price difference is when we arrived at Melaka Central bus station and needed to get to our hotel, we went to the supposedly official taxi office and was immediately descended on by a throng of drivers who all wanted the same price. The fixed price was 20 ringetts, around £4, which we had to pay as I had no data connection to use the app. (Normally I get a local sim) When we got to the hotel and had some wifi I checked the price on Grab Taxi and the official fare was 8 ringetts around £1.50. I have to point out that it wasn’t the cost as £4 would be more than exceptable for the journey we took in the UK but the Malaysian government are trying to clamp down on the taxi syndicates run by local crooks. So beware

 

The Great Wall

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The Great Wall

Our next day in Beijing with another busy day ahead it was tIke to visit the magnificent Great Wall of China. Before we left the uk we did some research on the best place to visit. The main tourist spot is at a place called Badaling, but after looking at a lot of images and also watching the UK’s TV series “An Idiot Abroad”, with Carl Pilkinton, it showed  what looked like a football crowd walking along it, so we decided to give this section a miss . So with some further research we settled on going to a section a little further outside of Beijing at a place called Mùtiányù. This is far less touristy, in fact it was very quite when we went as we were outside the main tourist season.

The Chinese started building the wall some 2000 years ago and the wall covers a distance of 5,500 miles. We sourced “which as it turned out” a very good company on the internet run by a chap called Miles Meng. “In fact he is listed in the Lonely Planet guide book which we discovered later”. The journey takes about 2 hours and cost 700¥ (for the car not per person) this is around £80. If you decide to visit the  Badaling section of the wall you can take the train from Beijing north rail station, but if you decide on Mùtiányù then you need a taxi or private tour. The trip doesn’t include the entrance fees, these will cost 100¥ for the return cable car trip and 45¥ for the entrance totalling around £17

Top Tip instead of taking the cable car back down take the toboggan or luge it’s much more of a fun way to get down.

Visiting the wall in March like we did was perfect, there was no crowds, it was cold “there was still snow on the ground” and there were clear blue sky’s. Seeing the wall in the flesh so to speak was just amazing, in fact it was quite emotional. Another wonder of the world ticked off.