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Bangalore, India (April 18, 2014)
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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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Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 14 Android Travel Apps for the Indian Traveler

A smart phone or a tablet in the hands of the traveler and good connectivity on the move ensures that we, the Indian traveler can rely on our devices to do a lot of our travel planning. As a travel blogger and a regular traveler, I have used many travel apps on my android phone over the course of my many travels and based on multiple uses, I have zeroed in on the top 14. These top 14 android travel apps help with both domestic and international travel and I recommend that you install them and give them a try, if you have not already. I have linked all the apps to their respective page on Google Play to help you find them easily.

Android Travel Apps

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is my favorite online flight comparison site. I dig them as they give me the cheapest fares across a wide time frame, which works for a traveler like me who has no schedule pressure. Their spread is also very admirable as they cover both full services and low cost airlines. They work extremely well within India too. The app is very fast and is as good as their web version.

XE Currency
Currencies and their conversion is possibly one of the biggest headaches of the international traveler. I went to Europe and from there to Thailand and then to Singapore. I have US Dollars, Euros and Thai Baht on me and I wish to convert them to Singapore Dollars. The XE currency app comes to my rescue and prevents me from scratching my head in frustration. This application works both in online and offline mode and allows me to convert seamlessly from any of the ten currencies that I have set previously in my app. This app helps me find the best deal and save on those dollars I would have otherwise lost in a ignorant conversion.

Google Translate
Want to become friendly with the locals? Well, every traveler wants that, but doesn’t seem to know their language. Google Translate is a great app out there that allows you to translate into many languages and in most of the cases, they are pretty accurate. This helps in breaking the ice and making for a great holiday. I know that people use the translate tool on the web, but have you used it on your hand held device?

Skype
Skype is my go to communication tool for my travels. I have Skype subscriptions and Skype credits. This helps me make extremely cheap international calls home and those urgent local or international calls to a 3rd destination. And of course those video calls when I find good bandwidth. People can also easily reach me on my phone even when I am traveling through my Skype app. It works as if I have a local phone number, but without those excessive international call charges. This helps in breaking that long distance communication barrier and helps me stay up-to-date on those tiny details that happen with family and friends.

Booking.com
I am one of those few people who hardly make a hotel reservation, but a lot of you out there need one due to short holidays. Sometimes, I too need accommodation bookings for visas or during rush dates when everything gets sold out. Booking.com gives me the best spread across the world and I like them more because they allow for full refund in many cases. If not, I get most of my money back on cancellation. Their app is fast and their entire booking process is a breeze.

Agoda
There is one more hotel booking app that I would recommend, especially for travel within South East Asia. Their spread is commendable in this part of the world. Their interface can be better, but I like them coz they get the job done.

Whatsapp
International roaming charges be it data or voice means that we cringe to use our phone on our travels and that is why Whatsapp is so popular the world over. I am also a big user of whatsapp. It helps me connect easily with my family and friends and it hardly uses any bandwidth. Most of us already use Whatsapp even when we are at home, but I give it a special mention here as it helps our family and friends keep track of our location, we can share photos and videos with them and on our Whatsapp groups and thus keep them entertained with our travel stories while we are on the move. 

Cleartrip
Cleartrip is simple, efficient and super fast. I always use them along with Skyscanner to find out the best flight rates. In addition, I sometimes use them for hotel and train ticket bookings. They are great for domestic travel and also outbound travel from India.
 
Airbnb
When I feel like I need more space when I am traveling, when I feel like I need to stay with locals and when I feel like I need more bang for the buck especially in expensive cities, I opt for Airbnb. I have used them many times in expensive cities and have always been impressed with the results. If you haven’t heard of Airbnb, I would recommend you look them up. And if you haven’t sampled their services, try them and you will not be disappointed.

Trip Advisor
This one is a no brainer. Trip Advisor is immensely popular in India and the world over and their reviews are seriously trusted upon. To check a hotel’s review on Trip Advisor has almost become like a habit for me. I am sure it is the same for you too. Hence, download their app if you haven’t already.
 
Trip Advisor City Guides
These are seriously goof offline guides. Currently, they only cover a few major cities across the world, but they are so good that I am sure Trip Advisor will add to the list of cities soon. They cover all the important aspects of travel and work perfectly for those on a time crunch. They cover the top attractions, top places to eat, top things to do, top places to do and you know what they cover all the important things that the traveler looks for and all this with maps. What else do we need and that too in offline mode.

Zomato
If you are a foodie, you will love this app. They have great coverage in India and in 12 more countries. They offer interesting tidbits like cost of meals, the menu, the address, maps, reviews, etc. And wherever you go, this app will help you find that best place to eat depending on your palate preferences.

HappyCow
If you are a vegetarian like me, you will like the HappyCow app. They find vegan and vegetarian restaurants across the globe for you with menu details, cost, maps, address and more. They have a paid version too that has no ads, works in offline mode and gets faster updates. Personally, I am happy with the free version. A definite install for all you vegetarian travelers.

Kayak
After Skyscanner and Cleartrip, my next comparison tool is Kayak. It might not be the best tool when you look at flights out of India, but in the Americas and Europe, it is quite the formidable tool with a great spread. And is possibly the best for those who prefer flying on full service airlines. They also provide hotel bookings, car rentals and more.

If you think that there should be some other android travel app in this list, please do drop in a comment and I will review that app too.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Travel Photo: Kawah Ijen’s Sulphuric Crater

This one is not for the faint hearted. After climbing a steep and slippery trail for a hour, one has to bear the pungent smoke of sulphur dioxide in the air. After all, this is the world’s most acidic lake and is full of sulphuric acid. Apart from offering a great natural spectacle to the visitor, one can also see how the locals work in these inhuman conditions to make a living for themselves and their family.

Tourists enjoying the Kawah Ijen view
This short trek in the mountains of East Java in Indonesia offers a view that is matched by a very few places on the planet. Tough terrain, but unbelievable views especially on a bright sunny morning. This is one of my top volcano treks in Indonesia. Gunung Merapi would be a close second. I absolutely love interacting with the sulphur miners here. Are you planning this trek on your next trip to Indonesia?

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Logo Credits : Jobi T Chacko. UI/UX Credits : Murugan S Thirumalai
Copyright © 2009-2014 Sankara Subramanian C (www.beontheroad.com)
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