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Muscat, Oman (April 21, 2014)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Largest Cluster of Temples that I have seen

Temple clusters are quite a stunning sight. One can simply marvel at the architecture of the bygone era. Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Indonesia’s Borobudur and Prambanan, India’s Great Living Chola Temples, Myanmar’s Bagan and many more are some of the famous ones in Asia. But, the surprise is that the largest temple cluster that I have seen is one of the less known ones. It is called the Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda complex and it is located in the Inle Lake of the Shan state of Burma.

The Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda Complex as seen from a neighbouring hill
It takes a trek or a boat ride to reach this temple complex. The beauty of this place is that it has more than 400 temples in a super small area. While I was at ground level, I continuously kept getting lost both in my path as well as in my head as the beauty was un-paralleled. It was only when I climbed a nearby hill that I actually could make sense of its sheer numbers. Have you seen such a large temple cluster before?

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bangkok: Venice of the East

A lot of us know Bangkok as the bustling metropolis of South East Asia, where electronic gadgets are cheap, tourism is popular and the food is amazing. It is home to mad crowds, crazy traffic and lots of pollution. In fact, a lot of the movie Hangover 2 movie can be seen in reality here. But, there is more to Thailand’s capital than just this. The reason the old capital was moved from Ayutthaya to Bangkok is because of its Chao Phraya river, its well connected canal system and its fertile lands.

A river view from Wat Arun, Bangkok
This is a side of Bangkok that the locals know very well, but the tourists tend to over see as the charms of the modern city of Bangkok seem to appeal to them more. But, if you want a different perspective of Bangkok, wish to see some of Bangkok’s truest charms and see life away from the hustle, bustle and pollution, you have to explore this ‘Venice of the East’ on water.

Chao Phraya River scene from Wat Arun
An early start (before sunrise) would be the best way to begin your water exploration. There are boat jetties at many places along the river. At each place, one can either hire a tourist boat or a local boat depending on comfort and budget. If you want to travel on budget and/or experience the local life, I would recommend the local boats. To start with, you have to watch the sun rise from the ‘Temple of Dawn’ – Wat Arun. From here, the options are endless.

Buddhist temples on the Thonburi bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
You can explore more of the temples along the Thon Buri bank or you can dig deeper into some of the smaller canals. It is here in the smaller canals that you give you a Venice like look and feel, but with a dash of oriental-ness to it. There are these floating markets that sell vegetables, fruits, meats and all these daily use type of things. Then, there is your daily post man on boat. Then, there are so many of these houses that live by the river and you can see kids boarding their boat to goto the mainland to catch their school bus.

Dessert being served at the Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
There are lots of such things that one can see here. And even better is spending time with the locals here who will share their past of how their lives have remained still while the other half of Bangkok really zoomed skywards. The pace here is easy going, the people very welcoming and the food really delicious. All in all, make for great canal experiences.

Food Stalls at Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
The other thing that I like about these canals is the different perspective of Bangkok that they offer. Skyscrapers look different, bridges look different and basically the entire river front wears a look so different from the rest of Bangkok. Personally, I am a big fan of this riverside life of Bangkok and if you have not seen this side of Bangkok, I would suggest you get acquainted with it soon. It is truly the Venice of the East.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Invited by Oman Tourism

It gives me great pleasure to tell you that I have been invited by Oman Tourism to visit the Sultanate of Oman next week. This will be my first trip to Oman and I am very excited to see what seems like a very beautiful land with great Arabian culture and people. On this trip, I will be visiting local Omani markets, historic forts, mosques and other important monuments, the capital city of Muscat, coral islands, traditional ornament making factories and the famous sand dunes of Oman.

To give you an idea of my itinerary, I will be visiting the following places:

Muscat (Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Bait Al Zubair Museum, Old Muscat, Muttrah Souk), Al Sawadi, Dimaniyat Islands, Nizwa, Wahiba Sands, Sur, Qalhat and Wadi Shab.

I hope to click lots of pictures and share with you while I am there and in detail once I am back. For frequent updates, do stay tuned to my Facebook page and Twitter stream. I hope to return with lots of stories, tips and insights for all of you.

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15 Simple Tips to Stay Healthy while Traveling

It is an absolute bummer when we fall sick on our holidays. Whether it is the common cold, the queasy stomach, the blisters on your feet, the heat rashes, the tiredness due to dehydration or an accident, it is a pain that not only affects you and your holiday, but also that of your family and friends. And to top it off, it adds to your financial and emotional burden. In short, it spoils your holiday and all your planning.

During my travels, I have had my fair share of falling sick. The most common item on the list is the uneasy stomach, but I have also had the unfortunate privilege of being bitten by dogs, being bitten by sand flies, cutting myself on coral rocks and being in accidents. A lot of these instances can be attributed to the fact that I love to experiment with the local street food, the fact that I love to trod the path less beaten and hence am caught unawares at times. But, over a period of time and based on learning from my mistakes, I have figured out a way to reduce my sick travel days.

It is based on these personal experiences and those shared by fellow travelers I met on the move that have helped me build these handy tips that should help you stay healthy while traveling.
Knocking down pushups at Rialto beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA

Control your Alcohol Intake
I know you are on your holiday, but that isn’t excuse enough to get pissed drunk every day. This includes those long flights too. People start drinking as soon as they board a flight. They say it helps them sleep, but I beg to differ as alcohol will dehydrate you severely. Do drink, but stay within limits. Supplement yourself with lots of liquids and nutritious food so that the effects of dehydration and hangovers are minimal. After all, you have so many things to do and places to visit the morning after and you don’t want a muddled mind while doing that.

Stretch Every Day
Cramped seats on the plane, train, bus or car, change of beds with every new destination, those endless hours of walking and finally those backpacks and baggage. All these lead to cramped and sore muscles. Don’t ignore them as they might lead to bigger issues. The best way to deal with them is by stretching every day. Personally, I prefer some squats, spinal twists, shoulder stretches and hamstring/quadriceps/calf stretches at the start of every day. If you know to do yoga, add about 5 minutes of it to your morning stretching session. If you have access and can afford, go for a massage or a spa session. While you are on the aircraft, keep moving around and do some basic stretching for blood to circulate well.

Drink Local Filtered Tap Water after a Week
Even though, I am used to drinking low hygiene tap water at home, I take it easy for the first week when I am traveling and drink bottled water in that country. And then slowly I settle down into drinking the local tap water, filtered water or boiled water like how the locals do. This helps my body acclimatize slowly to the water and prevents me from catching any water infections. You can either try this or to be safe can stick to bottled water.

Do you have a Crocodile Stomach?
Crocodiles have digested anthrax and we travelers dream to have such powers of digestion. I have been blessed with a very strong stomach, but even then every now and then, I do feel the effects of bad street food. The best way to deal with stomach related issues is to use your common sense, trust your stomach’s capability, experiment in moderation and carry digestive enzyme supplements if you struggle. I don’t believe in skipping local or street food at all. In fact, I love to try them out, but do so with moderation and if my stomach is fine after a day, I indulge in them. If you do not find enough nutrition in the local food, try and supplement it with stuff from the super markets or the local markets like fruits, nuts, etc.

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
This is one thing that lots of travelers unknowingly ignore. You are walking more, the humidity is most possibly higher than at home and you are guzzling more. Your body needs more water. Do ensure you drink enough liquids (water, juices, fruits, etc.). And start this good habit right from the time your board your plane. This will help you with your jet lag too.

Plan for the Elements
Weather is one of the things that is not within our control, but we can work around it. Depending on the weather, pack a pair of polarized sunglasses, good sun block, a wide-brimmed hat, summer or winter clothing, a rain poncho and a pair of comfortable walking shoes/boots.

Stay Clean
A couple of showers a day and clean clothes go a long way in keeping most of the sweat and dust related problems. In case of over sweating, either use talcum powder, antiperspirant or anti fungal powder. It is best to bathe in clean water after a swim in the sea or the hotel swimming pool. Both salt and chlorine can cause skin rashes.

Pack a Good First Aid Kit
You will have access to good hospitals and pharmacies while you are traveling, but there is no equivalent to carrying your trusted medicines. This is even more critical if you have to take regular medication. Many a time, your medicine is not available in the country you are traveling to or is very expensive. A good first aid kit can prevent this situation. In my first aid kit, you will definitely find a lot of probiotics, tiger balm and some paracetemol.

Exercise whenever you can
Generally, travelers get good exercise every day of their holiday as they walk quite a bit. Sometimes, they swim too at the hotel swimming pool or at the river or beach. While this exercise is good, it augurs well if you can somehow manage a short run twice a week and ten minutes of push ups and squats every day. My travel exercise chart includes at least 5 kms of walking every day, 10 minutes of push ups, 5 minutes of squats and 10 minutes of yoga every day. And I also stretch well. If you are on a short relaxing holiday, such exercise can be excused.

Get Enough Sleep
I do understand the fact that you have spent quite a bit to reach your holiday destination and thus wish to pack as many sights and activities as possible in your short holiday. But, do you want to do this at the expense of your health? A good night’s sleep will do wonders and help you enjoy your holiday more.

Don’t Drive in an Inebriated State
I have met tourists with broken ankles, dislocated shoulders, bad gashes, multiple stitches on the face and more. All of them had one thing in common. They drove a car or rode a motorbike while they were in an inebriated state and met with an accident. Drunken driving is a serious offence in the developed part of the world, but that may not be the case in a remote tropical island. But, the effects can be pretty hazardous. Like how it works in the cities, take a cab or ask a sober friend to drive so that you can reach your hotel room in one piece.

Don’t Overdo Cigarettes, Alcohol and Drugs
I do understand that holiday makers are out to have a good time, the fact that cigarettes and booze are much cheaper than back home and that drugs are easily available. I trust you to use your judgment while indulging in these, but try not to over indulge. It can lead to lots of health disasters.

Safe Sex
Whether you are living in your city or are traveling, safe sex needs to be practiced. You might come from a country where the spread of STDs might be very less, but the country you are traveling to might have a high percentage of STDs. It is better to be safe than sorry. It is best to carry condoms with you or buy them from a supermarket or pharmacy at your holiday destination. And at the end of it, use your better judgment.

Preventions and Immunizations
I don’t know how people can build immunity for a holiday as it takes years for the body’s immune system to develop. However, we can do a lot in terms of preventions and immunizations. If you are traveling to an infected country, it is advisable to take a dose of the required immunization well in advance (sometimes 3 months before). Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, Typhoid, etc. fall under this category. But, in the case of Malaria, I would not recommend immunization as it might cause side effects and may or may not be effective. The best way to deal with Malaria is by preventing yourself by being bitten. And you can do this by sleeping inside a mosquito net, covering yourself, using a mosquito repellant, etc. It is best to take the advice of your doctor before you decide on the final course of action.

Buy a Good Health Insurance Plan
There are so many health tips out there that we can follow, but when in emergency, there is nothing like a good health insurance plan that comes to your rescue. It pays to research well on your travel health insurance plan before you leave for your international holiday. Do make sure they pay for daily expenses, have higher limits and also will bear the cost of flying you back to your home country.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Travel Photo: Wooden Buddha Statues from Luang Prabang

The UNESCO World heritage area of Luang Prabang is straight out of a fairy tale. The Mekong river front, the French colonial buildings, the absolutely stunning golden temples, the rich aura of Buddhism, the beautiful street markets in the evening and the hill top views all give this place an unbelievable look. If you are walking on this stretch of heritage area, there will hardly be a moment when you are not left spellbound.

Wooden Buddha Statues inside Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos
One of the most beautiful temples in this UNESCO World heritage area is Wat Xieng Thong. Its architecture, its golden colours, its intricate design and rich history make for a great visit. This is one of my favorite temples of Luang Prabang. What is your favorite temple of Luang Prabang?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coast of bliss: Pearls of the Andaman Sea

Some of the clearest and bluest water in the world can be found in the Andaman Sea. It’s no surprise then, that the Andaman coast has some of the best beaches in the world. From Indonesia to Malaysia to Bangladesh to Thailand, each country has its own little pearl of a coastal city along the way. For those thinking about a holiday in the sun, here are some of the most beautiful spots you’ll find along the way.
Khao Lak Beach, Thailand
Khao Lak, Thailand
A Khao Lak holiday offers the best of all worlds. For the relaxation seekers, there are the long stretches of beaches and warm waves that let the stress fade away. For the adventure seekers, there is some of the best diving in the world, with a gentle sea and rainbow colored coral for explorers. There are also mountains to hike and exotic animals to see at the national parks, all with the north Andaman Sea as a backdrop. Plus, it’s a far cry from the bustle of nearby Phuket’s bigger resort towns.

Langkawi, Malaysia An archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, Langkawi is one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations. While there are the requisite beaches and clear water, the big draw here is the Geopark. Given world Geopark status by UNESCO in 2007, there are three main parks that are unlike anything else in the world. In these parks are a sky bridge that winds over the rainforest canopy, hidden lagoons and caves, and all other kinds of natural wonders.

Sunset from Pulau Langkawi, Thailand
Ko Tarutao, Thailand
An island off of southern Thailand, a holiday here is a bit different from other Andaman holidays. The water is murky compared to other nearby spots, but it makes up for it due to the vast wildlife on the island. Sea turtles, mouse deer, crab-eating macaques, monitor lizards, and more all call the island and the water surrounding it home.

The Similan Islands Considered the best diving site in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands are covered in tropical jungle, but it’s the views under water that are the real draw. There are two different dive spots around the islands, both will world renowned sights. Dive sites on the west are filled with massive granite boulders, covered in coral. Dive sites to the east are defined by gently sloping coral reefs.

Diving at Similan Islands 
Georgetown, Malaysia
A holiday to Georgetown is a different kind of Andaman sea holiday. While there are beaches and water you can take a dip in, the real draw is the city itself. In regards to the city’s architecture and cultural townscape, it has no parallels in Asia. It’s a place where the past is present, with cities and sights that haven’t changed in a decade. Trishaws carry visitors and locals alike through the winding streets while skyscrapers dot the landscape. For even the most discerning traveller, any spot along the Andaman coast is sure to be a fun filled holiday, so why not pack some flip flops and start exploring?

Images by Inchka, Davidlohr Bueso and Joonas used under creative commons license.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Travel Photo: Beautiful San Agustin Church from Intramuros, Manila

The Intramuros area on the outskirts of Manila is such a far cry from this bustling Asian metropolis. There are no loud jeepneys or typical mad crowds of Manila. Instead there are pedi cabs, lesser vehicles and lesser people. This is the UNESCO World heritage area of Manila and is home to some stunning structures from the colonial era. It is home to the largest church of Philippines, the oldest church, a large river side fort, a very scenic golf course and a historic museum.

Inside the San Augustin Church, Manila
One of the top sights in this area is the San Agustin church, the oldest church of Philippines and a stunningly well decorated church. Its prayer hall, its inner chambers, its paintings, wood work and much more are worth admiring. The frescoes on the ceiling of this old church is a sight to remember. Have you visited this side of Manila?

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Copyright © 2009-2014 Sankara Subramanian C (www.beontheroad.com)
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