Tag Archives: travel

Our three Month Asian Adventure. India and Sri Lanka,

Standard

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.

Advertisements

Xian and the Terracotta Army,

Standard
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

Phuket

Standard
Phuket

The next stop on our journey to Asia was Phuket in Thailand. Just a short flight from our last stop Singapore. Now this part of the journey I was looking forward too as whilst we were in Phuket it was to be my 60th birthday, it was supposed to be a laid back leg, sun, sea, and sand, but I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Yes it had the sun, sea, and sand but not much else in my opinion. Karon beach where we were staying was a bit like Benidorm in Spain for my liking, full of tacky souvenir shops, not very inspiring restaurants “except where we went for my birthday” with menu’s like the Encyclopedia Britannica, quite how they can produce all those dishes is beyond me. Also another thing that spoilt it for me the whole place caters for visitors from Russian. Most of the signage was in Russian and nearly all the restaurant menus were the same. Now let’s get this straight I having traveled extensively around the world, but when I leave England and travel to wherever it may be I want to sample that country for what it is, the food, and the culture not because most of its visitors are from a certain part of the globe. This is the same reason I steer clear of places that cater for the “Brit Abroad” I absolutely hate it.

We did hire a scooter and got around a bit though. We went to Kamala beach which in my opinion was much nicer than Karon. Rode through Patong, which looked like a living nightmare and visited The Big Buddha. On my 60th we went to, probably the only nice restaurant in Karon, and that was the Boat House, a really lovely restaurant right on the beach front, recommended in the Lonely Planet and by most internet searches for restaurants in the area. A beautiful meal was had and washed down with a lovely, if not expensive bottle of wine.

One place I would highly recommend visiting when visiting the island is Old Town Phuket. Lots of interesting little shops and restaurants and really lovely buildings, and more importantly much much cheaper than the resorts

 

Travel Tips

Beware, you will not find a metered taxi around any of the popular beach resorts on the island. You will only find small Tuk-Tuk’s, albeit the modern variety which are small vans, normally opened sided, which huge sound systems blasting out ear shattering music, all seemingly run by the local taxi mafia. Thankfully we only used them once. Their rates are quite frankly extortionate, our short journey of about half a mile cost around £5.00, and they will not negotiate. Getting a metered taxi from the airport was ok but getting one to return as like I said it was impossible to find one. So I suggest if you get a good, friendly driver from the airport, get his or her number and use them for your return.

 

Singapore

Standard
Singapore

Well its about time I got around to completing my blog on our five-week trip to asia. We left Yogyakarta early for our flight to Singapore with Air Asia, which went with no dramas. On arrival I used the really good Taxi App, which was recommended to me when we were in China called “Grab Taxi” the app lets you choose between taxi or shared taxi (mini bus), we chose the shared option and saved a good few dollars, which really helps when you’re in Singapore as it can be rather expensive.

Our hotel was located in the Joo Chiat area of Singapore, which was a little out of the centre, but has good transport links to the cities main attractions.

On doing our research on our trip we came across  a hotel chain called Zen Rooms, which I would throughly recommend. It appears the Zen Rooms have their rooms in larger hotel chains, our room was in the Aqueen Heritage Hotel which was very nice indeed. On arrival and throughout our stay the staff were very helpful, and I would highly recommend staying here. When we chose our hotel it was all about price, as the hotels in and around the heart of Singapore are much more expensive.

Joo Chiat, is roughly six miles from the Marina bay area of Singapore. Which wasn’t a problem as the Singapore transport system is very good. We had done some reasearch into the area but we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we needn’t  have worried as it was a great location, plenty of places to eat, good coffee shops and bars, which are mostly housed in some very colourful and ornate old shop houses. If staying in the area I would throughly recommend the Har Yassin restaurant in the Changi Road. The food here was amazing and also very cheap. Next it was off to explore the city. As we had arrived early we decided to take the metro to Clarke Quay. Now using the metro in Singapore is a breeze. Quite obviously you need a ticket which can be purchased from the many ticket machines at the metro station, or from the ticket office. You cannot buy a return ticket they are just one way and these vary in costs. For example the ticket price from Payer Lebar, “which was our nearest station to our hotel” to Clarke Quay is at time of writing $1.23 so $2.46 return. You can buy a Singapore Tourist pass, which costs for 1 day $10 2 day $16 and 3 day $20, but as we walked to most attractions once we got to into the centre of town we decided it wasn’t worth our while, it’s just a matter of personnel choice.

1200px-1_clarke_quay_singapore_night_2014

Clarke Quay

after a nice stroll along river it was time for a nice cold beer, but be warned the prices in the bay area are rather expensive so shop around and look for a bar with happy hour deals.

Our next day it was full on exploring, we took a taxi to Marina Bay, to where the Singapore Flyer is located (big wheel) “it seems in every big city in the world its a must have”. We had a walk around a small section of the formula 1 track and the pit area, it seemed strange as it almost looks abandoned, so much different from than on race weekend.

img_7955

Marina Bay Sands

Then it was off for a walk around the bay. First stop was to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel which is in every tourist advert of Singapore. A very impressive building from the outside but I was not overly impressed with interior, too much bling for my taste, and too vast and bewildering. Next stop was to see the famous Merlion the iconic water statue of Singapore, on the far side of the bay. We then took a leisurely walk to Boat Quay, “and in my opinion a quieter and nicer version of Clarke Quay”.

The next day it was off to visit the famous Raffles Hotel a truly magnificent building, the interior is everything that you would expect from a grand colonial hotel. unfortunately the famous Long bar where everyone visits to have a famous Singapore sling was being renovated, which was a shame so we went into the Billiard Bar for our cocktail which in itself is a rather grand experience. After our very expensive cocktail it was time to hit the streets again and to visit the Arab quarter and Indian quarter of the city both recommended in our Lonely Planet guide-book. The Arab quarter of town. is where the Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah designated the land around it as a Muslim settlement. Soon the zone was attracting Malays, Sumatrans and Javanese, as well as traders from what is now eastern Yemen, and the area is now commonly referred to as Arab Street. its a great area to explore and a chance to see

126375935-660x420

Arab Street

some of the old Singapore. Little India is just a short walk from Arab street and is equally worthy of a visit. Lots of stalls, street food and restaurants, we found a great restaurant in Road called Andrha Spice, the food wax excellent and cheap.

Gardens by the Bay

If there is one thing you have to do and see when in Singapore is to visit the Gardens by the Bay, a magnificent free entry park and gardens near the Marina Sands Hotel, there is so much to see and do here you need to allocate a good few hours to walk around. I would throughly recommend paying the $28 entrance and visit the cloud dome it is truly amazing. I suggest you visit by day and also visit by night as the whole area is illuminated. My writing about it could never do the gardens justice, my advice is just go.I advise you to click the link and visit the website for more information.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Standard
Yogyakarta, Indonesia

After our time in Malaysia it was time to move onto the next leg of our journey, the island of Java, Indonesia, and to the town of Yogyakarta, pronounced (Jogjakarta). On arrival at the tiny airport it was immediately noticeable that this was going to be far different from Malaysia, because as we walked down the steps of the plane, there were no buses to take us to the terminal, no one guiding us as to where to go, it was just a case of ambling any way you wanted to the terminal building. Quite funny really. Also as we were making our way to the terminal planes were taking off  some 50 yards away, bizarre. We made our way to the official taxi rank (ignore the touts in the arrival hall) and found a nice taxi driver named Hermanto, who spoke good English, to take us to our hotel, Duta Garden. Duta Garden hotel is a really nice tranquil place in a very busy city, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. We decided to split our time in Java between the two towns of Jogjakarta and Borobudur, as we wanted to explore the large Buddhist temple there. After settling into our room it was time to explore our surroundings. Our first impression of Indonesia was that we were really going to like this place, the people were nice also another contributing  factor was that the prices here were a lot lot less than that of Malaysia. Our first full day in Yogyakarta  was just getting our bearings.  As it was the weekend it was recommended to visit the very large central market called Beringharjo, what a manic place. Lots of shops and street food vendors and a very large indoor market with an absolute warren of narrow lanes to walk through. It was extremely hot outside “about 32 degrees, so who knows what it was in the market,” it seemed the whole island had decided to visit, it was manic, needless to say we didn’t stay long. After our ordeal we decided to head off to the Kota gede suburb which is a very historic neighbourhood of Yogyakarta and has been the hub of Yogya’s silver industry for many years.

Our next day we visited Prambanan Temple complex. This along with Borobudur is a Unesco world heritage site and is a must see. Prambanan was built in the 9th century, and is a Hindu temple. Originally there were some 240 temples on the site, but most were destroyed by a major earthquake in the 16th century, now there are just eight of the largest temples standing. “There is an ongoing restoration project to rebuild the temples that were destroyed.” Inside each structure is a stone figure of the various Hindu gods. Click here for more info.
Borobudur. Now you can visit Borobudur on a day trip from Yogyakarta, a lot of tour companies will combine Borobudur & Prambanan in a day. In my opinion this is just too much to cram in, (especially if you want to see the sunrise) in just a day as you wouldn’t get much time at each site and would be a bit rushed. So we decided it would be better to stay in Borobudur for a couple of nights as that way it gave us the opportunity to get up early, I mean early, 4am, and witness the sunrise over the temple. To see a spectacular sunrise it is very dependant on the weather. Unfortunately for us it was quite cloudy, and not as good as we hoped, but just being there in complete darkness and seeing the dawn was amazing enough, a very serene and magical moment. The other advantage of staying in Borobudur and going for the sunrise is you beat the coach parties of tourists arriving and the droves of visiting school children, who seem to arrive at around 7:30 so the whole complex gets very busy indeed. Another Top tip is once the sun has risen most of the early organised sunrise trips are taken back to there hotels for breakfast so for the few people that are remaining you have the place to yourself. I would like to mention our accommodation we stayed in, Cempaka Villa  It was very cheap £37 with breakfast for two night, and is only a couple of minutes walk from the temples main entrance. Now Yogyakarta is called “The Special Region of Yogyakarta.” This is because is still has a sultan as its ruler. So one other sight worth seeing is the Sultans Palace. At certain times of day they have performances like music and dance, and a nice museum with lots of interesting artefacts on display “although some of them could do with a good dust.”

Top Tips In the markets, bargain hard, take 80% of off what they ask for, as they do ask for some stupid prices, but be fair these are poor people and are just trying to get by. If your happy with what they want just pay it.

Taxis Make sure before getting into the taxi, they put the meter on,  if not negotiate a price before hand, but don’t take their first price, haggle. But not to hard, as after all they are trying to make a living.