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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year from Chiang Mai, Thailand!!

What did you do for this New Year’s eve? Well…I lit a floating lantern and saw it go into the stratosphere with million others at Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The new year celebrations here so exceeded my expectations. It was such a festive atmosphere. There was music, a busy night market with interesting crowds and great food and then there was the floating lanterns and the fire crackers.

It was a beautiful way for me to welcome 2013 and I am sure you all have done your bit to welcome the new year in your own way. Happy 2013 to all of you and let’s hope that we all be blessed with lots of interesting travels.

Signing off from Chiang Mai, Thailand!!

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ko Lanta: Of less tourists, beauty and a true tropical island atmosphere

If you are arrive at Ko Lanta after visiting the other islands in Thailand, you will immediately notice the relatively lesser number of tourists here in spite of it being a fairly big island. And the other thing you will notice is that all the locals here are followers of Islam and even look different from the rest of Thailand.

Ko Lanta's oldest lighthouse
Ko Lanta is a island that is located in the Krabi province of Thailand and has a deep south influence owing to its proximity to Malaysia.And since it gets lesser number of tourists and is part of a national park, much of it is left untouched and still retains all the natural beauty of a tropical island.

Ko Lanta's eastern islands from the view point restaurant
People who come to Ko Lanta more often than not end up extending their trip. Such is the easy chilled-out life here. Personally, my initial plans were to stay here for 3 days, but I ended up staying 10 days and felt like I could stay more.

Original forest at Lanta National Park
The best attribute about this island is that most of the people speak better English than the rest of Thailand and this is because they have a good English based education system that they use to teach their kids.

Tropical entrance to the tiger cave at Ko Lanta
The island used to be totally untouched in the past, but developments have been taking place quite rapidly, though not as bad as the rest of Thailand. All the basic necessities are there, like good food, ATMs, hospital, clinic, Wi-Fi, continuous electricity, good roads and more. But, in spite of this development, one can easily find their space and get lost in it.

Sandy Beach at Lanta National Park
In terms of natural beauty, the entire west coast of the island is blessed with sandy and rocky beaches. The southern part of the island like Ban Kantiang Bay, Bamboo Bay and Waterfall Bay have better beaches. There is a natural park right at the end of the island where one can see the iconic lighthouse and the true tropical evergreen forests of the island.

Mu Ko Lanta National Park_A place to visit on Ko Lanta
On the eastern side of the island, the local islanders live and hence one can see a lot of rubber plantations and that is their main bread winner along with fishing. From the east coast one can also see the other islands that make up the Lanta archipelago. There are two to three view points that offer the visitor stunning views of these eastern islands.

Beautiful Ko Lanta Roads
There are many caves on the island that can be explored along with some tropical treks. Elephant trekking is also popular on the island. The waters off the island and near sites such as Koh Haa and Hin Dang and Hin Mueang are world class diving sites and have great corals. There are many places around the island for snorkeling too. Cave diving is also very possible from the island.

Stalactities and Stalagmites at Tiger Cave, Ko Lanta
In terms of island structure, the northern end of Lanta Yai is Ban Saladan. This is where the pier, most of the dive shops and the best restaurants on the island are. The place is cheaper when compared to the south side of the island. Long Beach to the south of Ban Saladan is popular for its nightlife. Popular joints are Korner bar, Galaxy bar and Opium. Khlong Khong is a favorite with backpackers owing to its low cost structure and simple bamboo hut accommodation.

Southern most point on Ko Lanta from a view point
Ban Kantiang Bay, Waterfall bay and Bamboo bay on the southern side of the island are more pricey, but very beautiful. It is for those folks who like a luxury beach holiday. The national park is to the southern most end and one can stay here in some basic forest bungalows, but people mainly visit the national park on day trips. The eastern side of the island also has some basic accommodation and restaurants. This is preferred by people who want to understand the local culture and do not want to see another tourist.

Sunset from the lighthouse at Lanta National Park
Lanta Nai to the north is full of mangroves and forests and no tourist infrastructure is there, though tourists can explore the place on day trips. In terms of access, Ko Lanta is connected by boat from Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lipe and Phuket and the mainland is also pretty close by if you want to go up north or south towards Malaysia.

Watching the sunset from Ko Lanta's Light house
I would definitely recommend spending your beach holiday at Ko Lanta. So many attributes of a tropical island still remain alive in it and its best attributes are its kind people and simply chilled out lifestyle. You will like it as it has something for all ages.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Travel Photo: The Phang Nga Landscape

The entire area of Phang Nga, the Phang Nga bay and the area it shares with Krabi is all known for its eye-popping landscapes. These limestone karsts, dense green jungles and mountains seem to be everywhere around you when you come into this town.

Limestone mountains of Phang nga from Tapan Cave
Here is one photo that I took from the top of Tapan cave or Heaven and Hell Cave in Phang Nga Town. The natural towers look stunning from here, but if you walk around the town you will notice them everywhere. I am pretty sure that the entire terrain is teeming with such towers. Only a helicopter tour can give a better idea.

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Guest Post: Rock Climbing at Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

If you are a rock climber, you know that Ko Phi Phi in South Thailand is one of the top rock climbing destinations in the world. Since I was at Ko Phi Phi a couple of weeks back, I did not want to miss the opportunity of climbing here. This post is an account of my rock climbing experience here.

Rock Climbing at Ko Phi Phi
There are 7 major walls in Phi Phi:
1) Drinking Wall
2) Ao Ling Wall
3) Hin Tak Wall
4) Hua-Ling (Monkey Head)
5) Ao Pilay Wall
6) North Face wall
7) Tonsai Tower

Climbing on Phi Phi started in the late 80’s mostly by the Dutch and the French. Phi Phi offers some of the best walls in Thailand with walls of steep limestone overlooking pristine beaches. Some of the best easier grade multi-pitch climbs in Thailand are to be found here, most of which are done over a mesmerizing blue sea. For a beginner, Tonsai Tower on it’s own offers about 20 routes from grade 5 to 7b+ all in a row. 

There are a couple of rock climbing shops around the island who will help you in providing accessories as well as help you in climbing. In case you want to learn, these shops also provide 1-3 day training courses. While searching for these climbing shops, I found out spider monkey and on understanding the demographics, cost and difficulty levels, I decided to climb the Tonsai tower. I took the one day package of 2000 baht that included gear and a lead climber to belay me.

Rock Climbing at Tonsai tower, Ko Phi Phi
The Tonsai tower, located at the end of the Tonsai beach offers close to 25 routes graded from 5 to 7b for single and multi-pitch climbs. This is the only climbing area in Thailand with such a fantastic concentration of easy climbs. This wall is a must. Some of the multi pitch climbing here is steep and unless you know how to back-clip on rappel you can easily get stuck dangling way into the dark.

In the morning I headed to the shop from where we took the equipment and headed to the rocks. It was a 7 minute walk from the main town. I could see the other  rock climbers busy climbing and I couldn't wait any more. After checking map, I figured out that the maximum toughness was 7b. So we started with 5 grade. It was pretty easy but a different experience as there were grooves everywhere and one needs to decide which one to use once one reaches the spot. It took me around  ten minutes to complete the route. The second I picked was 6a. I did it easily within 15 minutes. After reaching the top, the view of the island was beautiful. One could see the two sides of island separating the sea. The afternoon sun lighted the corals beneath the sea and hence the green color literally was remarkably contrasting. I waited there for 5 minutes just to feast on the view.

Climbing at Ko Phi PhiThe third was 6b grade and 35 m high. I was getting tired as I was out of practice for the last three months. I took rest for some time and started the climb. It was really tough and I had to stop at one point as there was no way i could go forward. So  I decided to  change my direction. Now this required proper bouldering and it was tough to move towards the right for 5 meters at the overhead extension. Slowly, I started inching towards the right ensuring that I was getting a good grip.  Finally, I managed to reach the Point for where I cold easily climb to the top. I was just 7 meters below the top when i realized that the rocks were slippery as water was dripping from the rocks. It had rained heavily yesterday and this area was under shadow thereby still wet. It was very slippery and my chalk powder was of no help. I didn't have any other option but to change my route. So slowly i used my feet to get good grip and relied more on the foot and not on the hands. I ensured that somehow even if my one hand slips, my legs would be strongly grounded to support my weight. This last part took some ten minutes to cover. Well it was slightly scary but i managed to reach the point and standing at 35 m I looked at the sea below. I wish I could have taken my camera. The view was again stunning. The next path we picked was 7a. After climbing for 15m I got stuck and realized that I will slip and hence asked my instructor to tighten the ropes to control my swing in case I slip down. I slipped after one meter. My instructor was really good as he managed to make me sway away from the rocks. I tried again but I realized that my arms had pumped up and hence I could not  go further up. I still tried however I slipped this time again. So I decided to stop . One should know his/her limits and  should push accordingly as adventure sports can lead to a life threatening situation.

I came down, unwrapped myself from the harness and headed back to shop. After leaving the equipment, I chatted with the shop guys to understand more about rock climbing. They asked my experience and I told them that it was a different experience from India as the rocks here were loose, difficult to make the route at the start and hence posed a new challenge. Also, there were no such groves, there were holes and holes only. The best part was where I needed to take rest and I squeezed myself in a small crevices , supported myself on my back and rested there for 4 minutes. The area was so small that I could snuggle into it and perfectly fitted into it. I wanted to cover the other routes also, but since time was of essence here, I think I will return in an year, stay for a week or more and try out all routes.

About the Author: Vishwadeep Anshu is a close friend, fellow traveler and an amateur rock climber who in his free time teaches rock climbing to kids at Urban climbers in Bangalore, India. Note: The pictures in this post were taken by Vishwadeep Anshu and is his copyright.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Long Beach: The Rich Side of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

There is a rich and poor side to all places in the world. The famous tourist destination of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand is no different. If you like to spend lavishly during your vacation and are planning to head to the tropical island of Ko Phi Phi in the upper Andaman coast of Thailand, then Long beach should be on your agenda.

The beautiful long beach of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
There are 2 things special about Long Beach. One is its long and super wide beach that makes it a great place to spend your beach holiday. Second, it offers the best properties on the island and most of them come with a special ocean view.

The posh side of Ko Phi Phi
The other important thing this place offers is privacy. Basically, it has all the ingredients of a great beach destination and is a good 20 minute walk away from the tourists of Ko Phi Phi. The restaurants are all beach facing and offer great opportunities to enjoy a cozy sunset while sipping on some local Thai brew.

Boats moored at one end of Long Beach, Ko Phi Phi
And the menu is even more elaborate here, but the price is a bit steep. But, since you would not be here in the first place if it were not for the luxury, you should not feel the pinch. Everything is well taken care of on this stretch of the beach. Resorts have battery operated cars to ferry their guests and their baggage. Bars, shopping centers, pubs, easy chairs, emerald waters and more is available for the luxury oriented tourist on the long beach.

Phi Phi in the sands
So if you are a luxury seeking traveler and planning a beach holiday for the New Year, you know where you need to go. Long Beach on Ko Phi Phi!!

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Sunset Moment from Ban Kantiang Bay, Ko Lanta, Thailand

When you are on a tropical island, it is a given that you will see beautiful sunrises and sunsets. But, that was not the case to be for me when I was at Ko Lanta, one of Thailand’s best beach destination. The reason was simple. The 9 days that I was at Ko Lanta, the days were more or less cloudy all throughout with heavy winds. And since most of the accommodation was on the west side of the island, I had to ride 15 kilometers in the early hours of the morning and I was simply not prepared to do that.

Sunset from Ban Kantiang Bay, Ko Lanta, Thailand
Hence, I had to chase my sunset moments. One evening, I was at the national park located at the southern most end of the island. Here, I felt that that evening might give me an outside chance at a decent sunset. Hence, I left the national park as the sun starting setting in the horizon. When I do sunsets, I have a certain thumb rule. The best sky, colors and the glow happens about 30 minutes after the sunset, give or take a few minutes. Thus, keeping this thumb rule in mind, I kept watching the sunset and rode north towards the beaches. But, since it was cloudy, my thumb rule fell short by 10 minutes and I had to make a mad dash to the nearest Ban Kantiang bay beach and this is where I got this sunset. Personally, I like it in spite of the clouds spoiling the colors from it. What is your opinion?

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Iconic Viewpoint of Ko Phi Phi

Nearly everyone who goes to Ko Phi Phi visits this scenic location situated on the top of its mountains. This place enjoys cult like status as most of the sign boards on the island lead to this place, which is also the Tsunami evacuation site on Ko Phi Phi.

Enjoying the view from Ko Phi Phi view point
The view point is actually not one view point but 2 view points, one situated higher than the other. The 1st view point is situated say about 30 minutes from the main market area of Ko Phi Phi. The first 10 minutes is a easy walk and then the stairs begin near the Harmony House. From here, the climb is steep and one might need a short break or two to catch their breath.

Lovely view of the Ton Sai and the Loh Dalum bays from Ko Phi Phi view point 2
It is close to the first view point where you will be asked to pay a entry fee of 20 baht per person to help maintain the place. From this entrance point to the view point, the entire pathway is beautifully landscaped with gardens and flowering plants. There is a small restaurant close to the view point where you can get water and some snacks.

The Stunning Ko Phi Phi Islands
At the first view point, you see the Loh Dalum bay, the Ton Sai bay, the beautifully green limestone hills of Phi Phi and the open ocean. From here, the walk to the second view point is another 5-10 minutes through tropical trees. Here the view is even better and there are rocks where one can sit for hours together.

View of Loh Dalum Bay and Ton Sai Bay from Ko Phi Phi view point 1
A slightly larger restaurant is present here and which provides a lot of food and drink options. One can plan to visit the second view point at any time of the day, though the ideal times are sunrise and sunset. The view from here is the same as from View point 1, but from a much higher vantage point. Do carry at least a bottle of water with you irrespective of the time of the day.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beautiful Loh Dalum Beach: The Sunbathing, Drinking and Party Beach on Ko Phi Phi

During the morning, The Loh Dalum Beach of Ko Phi Phi island is a pristine beach of white sands where tourists throng to find a place to sunbathe and take a swim in its emerald waters. In the afternoon, with low tide, the water recedes so much that swimming is not possible, but walking on the wider beach and finding crabs is a possibility. Some people prefer to just lie in the sun and read a book. Some crazy tourists like me, use this low tide as an opportunity to walk to the other side of the hills where the beautiful Monkey beach lies and then run back with the increasing tide waters.

Impressive Loh Dalum Bay of Ko Phi Phi
But, come night, the beach transforms into a playground for parties with live bands playing, fire shows being performed and lots of other interesting activities taking place. It is also the place where the drinking crowd lands post sunset. Couples, large groups and families alike sit on the beach with their drinks and get ready for the shows to begin.

View of Loh Dalum Bay from the view point resort situated up in the mountains
And as it gets closer to midnight, the true party begins. By this time most of the crowd is on a high and hence all inhibitions are let down. And the joy goes on till the sun comes out in the morning.

Loh Dalum Bay Beach at Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
During the day, the other thing that one can do is walk up to the view point resort from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the lovely Loh Dalum bay. The entire place is great, but it can get crowded during the high season and tourists and locals alike are known to dirty the beach during the party nights.

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Things to Do in the Historical Sultanahmet of Old Istanbul

Wandering into Istanbul’s Sultanahmet is like stepping back in time to the days of the glorious city of Constantinople, the powerful cultural hotspot of the Roman, Byzantine and much of the Ottoman period after it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. This tranquil part of the city is where many of the historical sites of Istanbul are found, including the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Basilica Cistern.

Old IstanbulThis area of the Old City is one of the most picturesque and romantic to walk around, and you won’t go far before you have stumbled across yet another gorgeous mosque, palace or other historical wonder. Make sure your camera is fully charged, as you will want to capture the stunning opulence of this grand city. Most of the historical landmarks of the Old City are located within a short walking distance from Sultanahmet Square, making this an ideal area to explore on foot and one of the best locations to find a hotel in Istanbul. If you plan on visiting several museums during a short visit, you might even consider the Museum Pass Istanbul, which will grant you entry to many of the museums and monuments and let you skip the queues.


What to See in Nearby Sultanahmet Square

Here are a few of the highlights of the Old City of Istanbul that are within walking distance from your hotel near Sultanahmet Square.

The Hagia Sophia
This is one of the most well-known historical sites in the Old City and is considered a great masterwork of Roman engineering. The basilica was constructed for the Roman Emperor Justinian and dates back to the sixth century. In 1935, it was converted into a museum and contains a collection of gorgeous artwork and stunning mosaics. The entrance fee is 25 TL, and you can also hire a guide at the museum to experience it more in depth.

Topkapi Palace
This lavish and ornate palace was the exclusive domain of the Ottoman emperors for over 400 years. As you explore the palace, you will be treated to the sight of Islamic and Christian religious relics, ancient weapons and antique rugs. Be sure to check out the stunning view over the Bosphorus, or Istabul Strait, when you reach the Fourth Court. The entrance fee is 25 TL.

The Sultanahmet Mosque
Otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, this gorgeous building dominates views of the Old City of Istanbul with its elegant domes and six minarets. When you step inside, you will be amazed at the sight of more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, a blue-painted ceiling and 200 stained-glass windows letting in the natural light. It is still a functioning mosque, so make sure you wear the appropriate clothing when you visit. You should keep your shoulders and legs covered, and shawls will be provided for women. You will also need to remove your footwear, which you can carry in a provided bag. Remember that flash photography is not allowed and that it is a place of worship, so be quiet and respectful. The entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but donations are welcome.

The Museum of Archeology
If you are interested in ancient history, this museum will fascinate you to no end. It contains an impressive collection that includes Sumerian tablets, fragments of the wall of Babylon and plenty of impressive Roman marble statues. The museum even contains what was once thought to be the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, a gorgeous piece adorned with ornate carvings. The entrance fee is 10 TL and, although the museum is open until 5 p.m., the last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. The Old City area of Istanbul is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots in the world and is overflowing with beautiful remnants of bygone eras. If you are a history lover, bring your walking shoes and wander into Istanbul’s past.

Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Sam Robertson is a contributing writer and history professor from Perth. He loves historical architecture, and his favourite building in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque.

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Day 10 Digest from Koh Pha ngan and Anthong Marine National Park, Thailand

For the earlier daily travel digests from my South East Asia Backpacking trip, look here.

The day began early for us as we had to be at the travel office by 8 AM where a taxi would pick us up and take to the Thongsala pier and then off to the Mu Ko Angthong Marine National Park. Hence, we left our Lazy House hostel early and walked to the travel office where at 8 AM sharp, a taxi picked us up and some more folks and took us to the speed boat’s office. At the office, we were given tickets and told to have their light breakfast that consisted of tea, coffee, fruits and cookies. We had breakfast and after a brief break, the speed boat company folks accosted us to the pier and into their boat.

Once we were in the boat, we were given a high level plan and off we went into the ocean and towards the marine national park. The first 45 minutes of the trip was uneventful as it was just blue seas that we passed, but post that we started seeing small islands jutting out of the water and soon started seeing a cluster of islands all close to each other and lush green in appearance. Some of them even had their own beaches. Then, the guide started showing us some islands that resembled a monkey, a lion or more. Shortly, after this stretch we reached our first pit stop on the waters. Here we were given our life jacket, masks and snorkels and told to jump into the water. All of us jumped in and found the marine life to be beautiful. A lot of fishes came up to my face and the experience was very good. But, what I did not realize is that there was a current in the water and while I was looking at the fishes I had gone quite far away from the boat and the rest of the group. Now, to tell about me, I don’t swim, but since I had a life jacket, I was comfortable floating or bobbing around. When I did look up, I saw the boat to be quite far and had to wave for help. My friend saw and swam up to me, but he could not pull me towards the boat as the current was quite strong. Soon, one of the crew members dove in, swam up to me and started pulling me, but the progress was slow as I am a big guy and the current was heavy. We swam a little bit more before a rope was thrown into the water. Finally, I reached the boat safely. An interesting experience it was.

The next stop was lunch where we were taken to a beautiful island with a white sandy beach. By this time we were all very hungry as the breakfast was light. Thankfully for me, there was 1 vegetable dish and fruits for me to eat and hence I ended up having a good  lunch. After lunch, there was a 30 minute break for everyone. During this time, the other tourists preferred to get into water and take a swim, while me and my friend stayed in the shade and decided to let our food digest. After this island, we were taken to another island in Angthong marine national park where we were supposed to climb up to the view point and also get to see the salty emerald lake inside the island.

When we reached this island, the weather was nice and sunny, which was good as that meant great photographs. But, it was only when I started climbing the steep stairs that it was bloody humid too. It took me about 5-6 minutes to reach to the viewpoint but by then I was drenched to the bone in sweat. The view was fabulous though. Here, we stayed for about 10 minutes taking photographs of the Angthong island that was one side and the Emerald lake that was on the other side. Then, we walked down the other side to the base of the Emerald lake. The lake was beautiful, but it was too hot and hence the view was murky. No one was allowed to swim in the lake as it was national park rules. Again, we started climbing to the top and then to the bottom. This time we were totally bushed and hence immediately jumped into the ocean to cool off. The dip was refreshing, but we were all called to the boat as we were headed to the other island.

This final island was large and in pristine condition. The plan here was to explore around the island or take a break and then do some kayaking. Since we were in no mood to take a break, we decided to play some beach volleyball. (the net and ball were already provided for). Soon, we were all sandy, but enjoying the game. It was during the game that my friend realized that he had lost his ring. He thought that he lost it while playing volleyball and hence we started looking in the sand for his ring. But searching for a ring in the sand is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We tried hard, but had to give up. By then, we had lost all interest in our kayaking trip and hence decided to give it a skip. We tried looking for the ring again but gave up quickly. We took a dip in the sea to get rid of the sand sticking to our bodies and then did 30 minutes of photography around the island before hopping onto the boat and back to Koh Pha ngan. At the Thongsala pier, a taxi picked us up and dropped us back near our hostel.

It was a good day trip to the Angthong Marine National Park, but it was a bit tiring and I felt like I was still in the boat as the ride was a bit bumpy on the return. Evening was relaxed with a long dinner and a movie back at the hostel.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Ma Ma Bungalows, Ko Lanta: Comfortable and Cheap Bamboo Huts close to the Klong Khong Beach

.The last 9 days I have been in the beautiful and quiet island of Ko Lanta. During these 6 days, I have been staying at Ma Ma bungalows that is located close to the Klong Khong beach and is located more or less in the center of the island. The best part about this location is that it is quiet, close to the beach and not too far away from the markets. Below is my review based on my current experience of staying here.

1) For 400-500 THB, you get your own bamboo hut (with fan) with private bathroom and private sit-out I think just this makes it a good deal.

2) The place is quiet, has a lot of greenery and is one of those places where you can sit out on your porch and read a book for long hours. In the evening time there are some mosquitos, though much lesser than some other places on the island.

3) These bamboo huts are located at about 2 minutes from the Klong Khong beach and access is through the Bee Bee Bungalows property. The beach is quiet and has its own relaxed style with weekend parties and easy going style.

4) The bungalows is run by a family who provide motorbikes on rent, some books and arrange tours for you.

5) The place is close to a lot of restaurants, 7-11 shop, markets and more making it easy to get your supplies.

6) The only thing missing in the place is internet connectivity. But, that too gives it a complete cut off feel. Since I need connectivity to work, I go to the restaurants with connectivity.

The Ma Ma bungalows are ideal for couples, backpackers and travelers who like to stay on low budgets and for a longer duration. I would definitely recommend this place to such kind of travelers.

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Scenery Guest House, Ko Phi Phi: A Review

My stay at Ko Phi Phi was for 5 nights and 6 days and during this time I stayed at the Scenery Guest House, a comfortable budget accommodation slightly away from the party zones of Ko Phi Phi. This review is based on my experience of staying here.

1) Ko Phi Phi is a small island and hence more or less every place is close to the party zone unless you are staying on the more expensive Long Beach. While this has its benefits, it is very hard to sleep in the night with all the party music thumping in your ear. The Scenery Guest House, since it is located slightly away from the party zone ensures that only minimal noise reaches you during your sleep.

2) Phi Phi has a famous view point. The Scenery Guest house is located close to this view point and hence provides easy access to the view point though you still have to climb quite a bit.

3) Scenery Guest House rooms come with AC or fan and provide options of 2 single beds, one double bed or a triple bed. I took the 2 single bed since we were 2 guys. The cost was 800 THB per night, but we negotiated to 600 THB per night. The prices in the entire island were high owing to the high season. Our room was large, had a private bathroom and and sitout that provided us with a lovely view of Loh Dalum bay.

4) The only problem with the place is that it is far away from the eatery joints. Not really far away, but say 10 minutes walk. The walk is good when you are walking towards the restaurant, but the climb feels tough when you have a stomach full of food.

5) The place has an in-house laundry service that is cheap. One can also hang dry some of their clothes outside the room.

6) The best thing about the guest house is its free wi-fi that worked always in spite of the bad weather on the island.

The place is really good for budget travelers or backpackers. Do ensure that you bargain quite a bit to get the best deal.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Mountain Sunset from Ko Phi Phi Island

Watching a beautiful sunset is in itself a peaceful moment, but if you have a beach, ocean and mountains in your sunset then it becomes even more special. I watched such an amazing sunset in the Ko Phi Phi island of Thailand.

Sunset over the mountains of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
I was walking from the Long beach and onto the Ton Sai Bay when I noticed that the sun was right above the mountain and going to disappear behind them. Now the amazing part here is that the mountains are just next to the ocean and I was standing on the Ton Sai bay’s rocky beach.

A Sunset moment on the beach of Ko Phi Phi
I was lucky to watch the entire sunset over the mountains and it was great in spite of it being a bit cloudy. I loved the silhouette it formed of the mountains in my frame and when the sun had disappeared behind the hills, I was also able to get silhouettes of the mountains in the background and the long tail fishing boats in the foreground, making it a very special sunset experience for me.

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Day 9 Digest from Koh Samui, the boat and Koh Pha ngan, Thailand

For the earlier daily travel digests from my South East Asia Backpacking trip, look here.

The day started early for us as we had a boat to catch at 9:30 AM. We were ready by 8 AM, but when we came out on to the streets for breakfast, we found that all the shops on the island were closed. Apparently all of them stay open till late in the night to cater to the folks who come late for dinner from the parties. And since they are open till late in the night, nearly all of them open only at 11 in the morning. Thankfully for us, we found a deli shop who served foot long sandwiches. We decided to have breakfast at this shop in spite of the high prices as we were very hungry.

At 9 AM sharp, a share taxi arrived at our hotel to take us to the pier. The share taxi picked some more people and dropped us all at the pier. At the pier, we got our tickets and stickers and boarded the small Haad Rin boat that could seat about 50-60 people. I got myself a spot on the sunnier deck while my friend got himself a spot in the windier front side. As the boat chugged away slowly, I could admire the beauty of the island, its blue waters and the colorful boats sailing on it. The island looked massive and so green as we passed along its length slowly. I wished I could live in one of those cliff side hotels that looked so exotic from the boat, but then I realized that I did not like this island much.

In an hour or so, we arrived at Koh Pha ngan’s Haad Rin beach and after passing by all the taxi and hotel guys, we reached the main Haad Rin area. As we walked around the area, we checked our three hostels, but found all of them to be expensive. It was very surprising that they were quoting high prices because all of the hostels were running empty. As we could not pay that high, we walked quite a distance in the humid weather before we found the Lazy house hostel who offered us a dormitory bed for 250 THB per head which was half of what others were asking. We took it and found that even this hostel was running empty and upon asking found out that most of Haad Rin as running empty as all the folks had left after the full moon party and that they would expect tourists to arrive 3 days before the half moon party. We settled into the hostel, freshened up and then walked towards the Haad Rin market area to have lunch. The best part of the lunch here was the tender coconut water as it felt like heaven in that sultry weather. After lunch, we explored a bit of the Haad Rin beach before we decided that the heat was a bit too much for us to handle. While we relaxed back at out hostel, we started reading more about Ko Pha ngan, we found out that there was a great trek nearby that provided great views of the Haad Rin beach and the surrounding ocean. As soon as it was 4 pm, we decided to grab a small bite and started our trek towards the view point.

We would show the map to the locals and get directions to the trail and once we found the trail, we started walking uphill. The trek was nice and green, but the humidity was still high. We walked for more than 30 minutes but could not located the view point. We asked a couple of locals, but they had no clue of where the view point was too. We decided to turn back as we thought that we might have missed a turn somewhere. And when we did retrace our steps, we found out a steep way that led up somewhere. It was slippery, but we found a rope that could be used as a support to climb. But, unfortunately for us, it started raining and we sensibly decided not to climb any further as the trail would get worse and dangerous in the rain. As we made our way back to the market area, the rain increased in intensity and we were all drenched. But, I really liked the rain as it provided much needed relief from the heat and the exhaustion from the trek.

By the time we reached the hostel, the rain had stopped. After a much needed shower, I began exploring the market area of Haad Rin, had one of the famous banana pancakes of Thailand and kept exploring while my friend decided to check out the various seafood that were put on display in front of the restaurants. We finally settled into a restaurant, had a hearty dinner, explored the market area some more and then finally booking ourselves on a tour to Angthong Marine National Park the next day.

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Dining at Ko Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Ko Phi Phi is a very small island in the upper Andaman waters of Thailand, but when it comes to dining here, it offers quite an interesting experience especially with respect to cost and variety. To give you an idea about the size of the island, you can walk from one end of the happening area to the other end in about 15 to 30 minutes. In between, there are a lot of restaurants, market stalls and street vendors who cater to your food needs by serving you everything from fresh fruits, juices, pizzas, coconut doughnuts, sandwiches, sea food, thai food, indian food, continental food and more. And the cost of these items albeit more or less same quality would be the lowest at the market stalls closer to the pier and increase if you went to a nearby restaurant and be the highest when you towards the posh Long beach area of Phi Phi. To give you an idea of the cost, a plate of seafood containing 1 white snapper, 5 prawns and 1 crab would cost you 399 THB at the market stall, 450 THB in a restaurant near the market and between 600 and 1000 THB as you got closer to the Long Beach.

Seafood and Meat on display in the markets of Ko Phi Phi
But, the funny part is that my friend who is a connoisseur of seafood told me that the freshest stuff was available at the market while the oldest stuff used to be available at the posher restaurants. He could tell that by looking at the fish that all restaurants and stalls would lay out in front of their property. If you are at Phi Phi, the best thing to eat is the local sea food. It is fresh, it is the cheapest and it is what the islanders cook the best. Even though the mighty large pizzas look good, I have been told by a couple of English girls that the pizzas are not edible and that the folks on the island don’t know how to make a sandwich.

Menu in Ko Phi Phi Market
Personally, for a vegetarian like me, the options were limited, but not bad. I stuck to fried rice with vegetable, vegetable soup with steamed rice, mixed vegetables with steamed rice or fried broccoli in oyster sauce with steamed rice. In addition, I absolutely loved the juicy corns that are barbecued over a coal fire and served with salt and lemon. If you are on Phi Phi and would like to taste a local dessert, then do not miss the opportunity of tasting the Coconut doughnut (grated coconut, coconut milk and sugar fried in oil). I loved the coconut doughnut so much that I would have at least 2 pieces every day.

Rice Dumplings of Thailand
A couple of inferences from my dining experience here is that food is much cheaper in the market area. Seafood is very fresh if it is white snapper, red snapper, some local varieties, prawns, crabs and squids. Saw fish, shark and sword fish are not that fresh here as they come from Krabi as fishing for such fishes around Phi Phi is illegal. Overall, the dining experience is very interesting here and you can simply soak in the island sun and enjoy your relaxed and tasty meal here.

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Day 8 Digest from Koh Samui, Thailand

For the earlier daily travel digests from my South East Asia Backpacking trip, look here.

The exhaustion of Day 7 ensured that we woke up a bit late on this day. After the usual morning routine, we headed out to have Pad Thai by the roadside and kept walking by the Chaweng market road before we decided that we needed to explore the Choeng Mon area that was to the north of us. After a log of haggling, we finally got a share taxi who agreed to take us those 10 kms for 50 THB per head. The ride was along fairly easy as we crossed some beautiful views over the mountain roads. All of these view points were occupied by private properties and hence one needed to stay/eat at these properties to enjoy nature’s view. This really sucked, but there is only little that I could do about it.

In a short while, we reached the Choeng Mon area, walked to the beach and walked all along its length. The beach was fairly good, but was frequented by older people and/or families with kids. That was the first thing that we noticed because we had just come from a more younger area, the Chaweng beach area. The other thing that we noticed that everything was more commercialized here and one could go on the jet ski, do surfing and so much more. As we were watching all this, we noticed dark clouds coming at us quickly and in line with those clouds, it turned dark very soon. The last couple of days, it had been raining around these islands and it looked like we would get much more rain even today. Soon, the rain came and boy was it heavy. It poured for more than an hour and we had to take shelter in a dive shop. During this time, we made our acquaintance with the dive shop manager, found about the weather forecast and the various dive sites around. The underlying census was that the weather forecast was bad and the cost of diving from Koh Samui was insanely high as all the dive sites were either closer to Koh Pha ngan or Koh Tao.

After a long wait, the rain finally let off and we explored the Choeng Mon area a little bit before taking a taxi back to Chaweng. By this time, both me and my friend felt uneasy in the stomach and both of us guessed that it had to do with the Pad Thai we had in the morning. As soon as we reached Chaweng, we made a dash for our room, took some rest, had a late lunch, but a light one and then kept exploring some more of the market before it started raining again and we went back to our room. During our stay in the room, we watched the james bond movie, Sky fall and then after the decent movie break, we headed again to the Thai restaurant that we had liked during our visit last night. Food was again good there. We loved the curries here. During dinner we decided that since both of us did not like the big city culture of Koh Samui and since all the dive spots were far away from Koh Samui, we agreed to move on to Koh Pha ngan. In line with our decision, we purchased a boat ticket on a cheaper Haad Rin boat (200 THB per head) from our hotel front desk. The boat was supposed to leave the next morning at 9 AM and since we had an early start to the next day, we retired early. The uneasy stomach episode also ensured that we slept as soon as we hit the bed.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Commuting by boats across the islands of Thailand: A different perspective

In the last 3 and a half weeks in Thailand, I have been to umpteen islands: Ko Samui, Ko Pha ngan, Mu Ko Angthong Marine National Park, Ko Tao, Ko Nang Yuan, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, which is where I am writing this post from. While the islands in itself are beautiful tropical islands, I somehow like the experience of watching these islands from a different perspective, which is from the boat. 

Arriving at the stunning Ko Phi Phi Islands
And since all these places are small islands with limited air connectivity, the main mode of transport to these islands is by boat. Some of these boats are air conditioned, large, have 2 upper decks, while the others are small, move slowly and have basic facilities. The perspective more or less remains the same, but the cost and the luxury factor varies. 

Sunning on the deck while traveling from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi
The standard thing on such a boat trip is basically taking a sun bath on the upper deck of the boat. People who come from cold countries waste no opportunity to get a bronze look and get ready with all their sun tanning lotion. In a short while, the deck turns into a tanning studio. While the sun tanning happens, one can watch the different islands around you flow past you, different kind of boats who are either on fishing trips or tourist trips, the shimmer on the waters and feel the thrill of watching the entrance to an upcoming island. I totally love these boat trips as they provide such a new perspective to you.

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Four Budget Break Destinations for Early 2013

Can’t bear the thought of waiting until summer for a much-needed holiday? With so many fantastic budget-friendly holiday destinations to visit in Europe, you certainly don’t have to! Here are four of our favourite low-cost holiday destinations where you can enjoy an early getaway with travel specialists such as Jet2holidays.

Prague Culture-filled Prague certainly isn’t the place to visit if you’re in need of some hot sunshine, but if you want to spend a few days pounding the streets of a super-cool city, sipping cheap beers and searching out the hippest clubs, you couldn’t ask for a better place to visit. Don’t miss sights such as the Charles Bridge, the magical Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square and Prague Castle at night to find out why this wallet-friendly city break destination keeps tourists flocking back.

Majorca A tourist hotspot during the summer, Majorca holidays is much quieter outside of the summer season – and you won’t even have to compromise on the good weather. This is the time to visit if you just want to enjoy a week kicking back on the beach with few people around, exploring the island’s historic ruins or just indulging in plenty of Spanish tapas, washed down with plenty of Sangria, and the best news is you won’t have to shell out a fortune for the privilege.

Berlin Not normally reputed as a cheap destination, Berlin is a city that will surprise you. This bustling capital of Germany has history around every corner and with so much to discover just by walking around its streets and exploring its parks, there’s no need for you to spend a fortune on city breaks to Berlin. The hyped-up clubs can be pricey, but you’ll have just as much fun drinking steins in the authentic pubs after a day hunting down bargains at the flea markets or ticking off the museums.

Split Croatia’s coastal resorts can really hold their own against their Spanish counterparts, especially as they’re equally as easy on the bank account. What sets Split apart from the rest is its immense beauty, with its historic centre having UNESCO World Heritage Site status and landmarks such as Diocletian’s Palace to discover, as well as miles of sparkling white sandy beaches where the only thing you’ll want to spend is your time.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Follow the bubbles: tours for champagne lovers

Accept no imitations! Remember, especially when buying champagne online, that only the sparkling wines produced in the region 100 miles from Paris in the North East of France have the legal right to be called Champagne. For those who develop a passion for the drink of luxury, there can be few finer holidays than a visit to the region. These itinerary suggestions could help you get the most out of a tour, or at least get an idea of what’s behind your bottle next time you buy champagne online.

Reims and Montagne de Reims to Epernay via Hautvilliers Champagne is one of the most northerly of all wine growing regions, and its largest town Reims is in the north of the region. It is home to Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot and many other houses. Fortified by a few tastings, you can then follow the region’s official Champagne Tourist route up into the Montagne, where grapes mainly grow on the north facing slopes with Pinot Noir the predominant variety. There’s a very good reason why you should pass through the village of Hautvilliers on your way into Epernay. None other than Dom Perignon was from the village – and legend tells that the Benedictine monk was among the first to make a still wine sparkle. Epernay is the perfect place to finish a tour of Champagne. The pretty town is known as the capital of Champagne, and its ‘Avenue de la Champagne’ is home to most of the great houses. There are over 100 kilometres of tunnels in the chalk rock, housing treasures of the champagne world which are yours to be explored – and perhaps tasted too.

Sezanne to Epernay via le Chateau de Montmort For a different take on the Champagne trail, start in the less populous southern end of the region, in the picturesque town of Sezanne. Smaller producers such as Maurice Dugard and the Pinard family will take you on intimate tours of their houses here. There are 5,000 champagne producers in the region, and these smaller ones – often working with unusual grape combinations – are able to challenge the greats, as Pinard proved by winning the independent growers competition in 2011. Travel north out of Sezanne and en route to Epernay stop at the magnificent Chateau de Montmort. Open to visitors, the turreted fairy tale castle dates back to the 11th century, and is surrounded by vineyards.

From there it is only a short drive into Epernay, the Champagne capital, where the great houses of the Avenue de la Champagne await to reveal their contents and send you home with a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye.

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Dazzling Night Life and Fire Shows of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

The world over, islands are known to have the best party atmosphere. So be it the Caribbean, Hawaii, Sri Lanka or the islands of Thailand, the night atmosphere always remain festive and more so during the high season when a lot of tourists can be found on these tropical islands.

Fire Show on Ko Phi Phi Beach
The atmosphere is the same on Ko Phi Phi, a group of islands located in Thailand’s upper Andaman coast. Like the rest of Thailand’s islands, the atmosphere begins after sunset. And that is why you will see people hit the roads fresh after a shower and all decked up to party.

Skipping over the fire rope at Ko Phi Phi
The first stop for most of these people is a couple of beers (singha or chang) and then most of them pick up a bucket of alcohol with coke and ice. These buckets have an iconic status in Thailand. Local and international liquor end up in these buckets, though the local ones are preferred by the backpackers owing to their lower cost.

Fire Pyrotechnics at Ko Phi Phi
The popular local alcohol brands are Hong Thong Whiskey, Sang Som rum and Similan whiskey. All of them contain 40% alcohol and cost between 80 THB and 140 THB for half a bottle (360 ml). While the beers and the buckets are being consumed with fervor, pamphlets are distributed by almost all of the bars, pubs and beach bars. Some have a fire show extravaganza, some have Brazilian dances, some have wet dances, some have beer pong games, some have muay thai boxing matches, while the others offer a discotheque and loud music with a local DJ mixing the music.

Fire show on the beach of Ko Phi Phi
Most of the shows and events begin at 9 or 10 pm and go on for a couple of hours and then all the focus shifts to the dance floor. For people who prefer a quieter night, they head with their drinks and huddle together at the beach, engage in conversation and listen to the waves lapping their feet.

Getting ready to jump over the fire rope at Ko Phi Phi
On most of the islands and Phi Phi included, there are a lot of places where the parties continue well into the morning and people end up having breakfast and then hitting the bed. Personally, I am a big fan of the shows, especially the fire shows which are very well organized and contain a lot of mojo and artwork.

Fire show and rope walk together
If you plan to be in the islands, do try and explore most of the places and enjoy their shows before letting the alcohol take over. Cheers!

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ko Phi Phi: Of natural beauty, an island atmosphere and man made blunders

Ko Phi Phi, a small group of islands in Thailand’s upper Andaman coast is true paradise. It’s limestone karsts, mountains that rise out of the sea, dense and steamy forests, emerald waters, rich marine life, a relaxed island atmosphere with a permanent party mood, great seafood and pristine beaches ensures that you will stay longer than what you planned for. But, that is the rosy side of the story. Increasing influx of tourists has lead to lots of unplanned development and this has led to destruction of trees and increased garbage levels. This garbage and sewer ends up in the Andaman sea and this is not at all a good sign.

Impressive Loh Dalum Bay of Ko Phi Phi
Having said that, let’s not take anything away from the natural beauty of this island. The place is beautiful. It’s bays, its loving and kind people, it’s long beaches and its stunning view points ensure that you will always be in awe of nature’s beauty. The fish and seafood found here is as fresh as it can get. The atmosphere here is so relaxed that people can stay here for months together. But, sometimes it is the same tourists who lead to a loud party atmosphere, drinking and smoking well into the morning. I am not against that as young people need to let out their energies, but the noise from the parties ensure that the entire island stays awake till the party dies down.

View of Loh Dalum Bay and Ton Sai Bay from Ko Phi Phi view point 1
There is no garbage disposal system here and a lot of the plastic waste ends up in either the forests on on the beaches of the island. The tourists add to it by throwing their cigarette buds into the water and on the beach.

Long Beach, Ko Phi Phi
This island has definitely resurrected itself after it was battered in the 2004 tsunami, but it is fast undoing all the good work and is on a fast path to self destruction. Such is the rate of the destruction that scuba diving shops don’t dive near the island anymore as all its coral reefs are dead and the marine life have moved else where. Instead, they dive in the nearby Phi Phi Ley national park islands.

Ton Sai Bay during low tide
Either the government should restrict the number of tourists coming to the island or build a good clean environment practice. There are some areas where I have to close my nose as the smell of the sewers irritate my senses otherwise and after a heavy spell of rain, it gets even worse as the sewer overflows onto the walking path.

Phi Phi in the sands
I really like the island and would like to return here many more times, but I sincerely hope that things happen for the good.

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Feast on the tropical fruits of Thailand

As a vegetarian, my choices of cooked food in the countryside is pretty limited as fish forms the staple diet of the people here. But, this is compensated by an abundant number of exotic tropical fruits that will ensure that you get detox’ed the natural way, while enjoying fruits that you would have never seen before. This rich supply of fruits is possible due to Thailand’s tropical climate and soil conditions that are conducive to their growth.

Fruits of Thailand
Well known tropical fruits, include papaya, pineapple, banana, jack fruit, mango and watermelon, but the more exotic fruits are the fleshy mangosteen, the hairy rambutan, the grapefruitlike pomelo, the much prized durian and the pink dragon fruit. These fruits are sold sliced as snacks by street vendors everywhere, and the full range of fresh produce can be seen at most markets.

Fruit market at Ko Phi Phi
Out of these fruits, my favorites are the mangosteens that has a melt in the mouth texture, the juicy guavas that taste yumm with a chili dip, the rambutans that taste very much like the lychee and the Durian that looks like a small jack fruit, but has a great tangy taste. The other plus is the availability of Mangoes throughout the year. This is fabulous as I love mangos.

So for all those who think vegetarians will have a tough time in Thailand, think of the brighter or should I say fruitier side.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day 7 Digest from the train, Surat Thani and Koh Samui, Thailand

For the earlier daily travel digests from my South East Asia Backpacking trip, look here.

It was an early start to my day as the movement in the train woke me up. After asking one of the train guards, I got to know that the train was running late by 90 minutes. I tried sleeping again, but could not get to sleep and hence got up, opened the screens on my side windows and watched a very beautiful sunrise followed by great views of lush green countryside passing by.

In a short while, the entire train started to wake up and the catering department came to take the breakfast order. I had to order from them even though they were a bit too pricey. In a short while, one of the AC compartment attendants came, removed the bedding and converted the beds back into seats and the catering department guy came with the food, took a table piece from below my seat and plugged it next to my seat and voila my breakfast table was ready. I was impressed with the design and after the initial excitement wore off, I dug into the food as I was really famished.

By the time my breakfast was done, the catering attendant informed us that we are expected to arrive at Surat Thani in 45 minutes. Thus, we packed our stuff and stayed ready. Once we got down at the station, we reached over to the information desk and told them that we had our Lomprayah bus and boat ticket bookings. They took us to the Lomprayah shop and asked us to wait for 30 minutes. Soon, a bus came and it took us 90 minutes to reach the Don Sak pier. I spent most of the bus journey sleeping and when I did wake up, I had a stiff neck. The boat looked great. It was supposed to be a high speed catamaran. I was impressed. It was clean, large and air conditioned. The boat journey was supposed to be about 60 minutes. Just after we left, the weather got bad and it started raining. We would feel the bumpiness in the water, but not that much. The boat simply sped on top of the rough waves. Thankfully, by the time we reached Koh Samui, the rains had stopped but it was still cloudy.

When we got out of the boat, we were swarmed by taxi guys with price lists to different parts of the island. Each fare was above 300 THB and the driver told us that distances were 20 kms, 30 kms and so on. I was wondering whether I was on an island or a large city. One of the taxi drivers explained us our location and the island’s geography using a map. He said he will take us to Lamai beach for 600 THB. But, I smelled a scam and hence kept moving. Finally, I got a Toyota Innova AC taxi to go to Lamai beach for 300 THB. We did not know where we had to go as we had no bookings. Hence, we asked the driver if he had any budget accommodation recommendations. He ended up taking us to one, but we didn’t like it. And we had also released the vehicle by then. Hence, we started walking on the road and by then we found a share taxi and bargained with the driver to take us to Chaweng beach for 60 THB per head.

In about 10 minutes, we were dropped at Chaweng beach. I was still struggling to come to terms with the sheer size of the island. We were on the Chaweng main market road. We looked all around, but did not find anything that fit our budget. An Indian waiter from an Indian restaurant saw our plight and offered to help and once he found out that we were Indian, he asked us to sit in his restaurant, gave us access to the restaurant’s wi-fi and asked us to go online and check out hotels that fit our budget. We found some names, got directions from the Indian waiter, thanked him profusely and hit the road again. We were sweating profusely as it was a super sultry day. We went from hotel to hotel, but did not like the rooms. Finally, our walk stopped at P Chaweng guest house, located on the main market road. We checked into our room, freshened up, had our lunch in the evening and explored the Chaweng beach before the sun set.

The evening was spent exploring the beach and the various shops and restaurants on the Chaweng market road and we ended up having dinner in a large Thai restaurant that seemed to attract a lot of people. The food was really good even though the prices were slightly on the higher side. During dinner, we watched a lot of taxis with blaring speakers and huge hoarding that were inviting people to different events, be it a wet shirt party, a muay thai boxing match, an ice party or others. This was quite a new experience to us,but apparently this was the norm in the islands here. One can sit in these taxis and get a free drop to these hangout joints. But, since we were tired, we decided to explore some shops nearby and then headed straight to the hotel to hit the bed. After all, it had been a hectic day for us and the sun and the humidity had really sapped our energies. But, as I was sleeping, I knew that I could not survive for long in this island city and created plans of getting out of the city as soon as possible.

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Top 6 Day Trip Ideas from Leh, Ladakh

The Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh has a lot to offer for all kinds of travelers. It simply doesn’t matter whether you a motorcycling enthusiast, holidaying family, adventure traveler, photographer or out on a simple vacation, Ladakh has a lot to ensure you always stay captivated with its beauty. I have been to Ladakh many times and in different seasons and here is a list of the best day trip ideas from Leh that should help you enjoy your Ladakh holiday to the fullest.

1) Khardung La
Khardungla - one of the highest motorable road in the world. The Highest in India is Marsimek La
Khardungla is like a mecca for motorcycling enthusiasts. To ride up to 18,380 feet and stand on one of the highest motorable roads in the world is no mean feat. Khardungla is about 60-80 minutes one way from Leh if you drive without any stops. You can stay for a maximum of 30 minutes on the top and explore the slopes on either side for magnificent panoramas. If you want a longer day trip, then you can continue towards Nubra valley, which is located on the other side.

Note of caution: Acclimatize well before going to Khardung La

Planning: Get you permits in advance from Leh

2) Nubra Valley and Khardung La
Partially frozen river at Hundar
Nubra valley is perfect for the nature loving traveler. It’s sand dunes at Hundar, its monasteries at Diskit, it’s Nubra and Shyok river views and its double humped bactrian camels will ensure that you have a fabulous day trip. And the best part is that you can also do Khardung La as a pit stop. But, the point to keep in mind is that this will be a long day.with lots of travel in it. To reach Leh from the rest of the country, one can take the Go Air, Jetlite or other flights that operate daily from Delhi.

Note of caution: Acclimatize well before going to Khardung La

Planning: Get you permits in advance from Leh

3) Lamayuru Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Sangam and Magnetic Hill
Lamayuru town and Lamyuru Monastery
This is one of the more popular day trips around Leh as it will allow to see the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, see the pulling effect of the magnetic hill and soak in the beauty of Ladakh’s two old Buddhist monasteries, each on either side of the Indus river at Lamayuru and at Alchi. Since this is a very easy trip with minimal walking, it is ideal for all kinds of travelers.

4) Hemis Monastery and Hemis High Altitude National Park
The houses of the monks next to the Hemis Moanstery
Hemis is the place where the richest monastery of Ladakh exists. Since Hemis is located primarily in the shadows of the mighty Himalayas, it is always colder than the rest of the places. Apart from the monastery, one can explore the neighboring Hemis High Altitude National Park, which is known for its snow leopards and its beautiful treks.

5) Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso - This was where the final scene of the Bollywood Movie '3 Idiots' was shot
Pangong Tso is one of Ladakh’s prettiest lakes and can be visited on a day trip from Leh, though there will be lots of travel in the day. This is where the last scene of the ‘3 Idiots’ bollywood movie was shot. The place is so serene and beautiful that one can spend hours admiring its beauty. The plus points of this trip is that you can visit the high altitude Chang La pass and also see the Changthang cold desert up close.

Note of caution: Acclimatize well before going to Chang La and Pangong Tso

Planning:
Get you permits in advance from Leh

6) Chilling (Zanskar Valley)
Road from Nimmu to Chilling, runs parallel to the Zanskar river
The Zanskar valley as such demands a longer duration to explore, but if you need to get a flavor of the place and get to see its beauty in a day, then Chilling is the place to visit. The trip will allow you to see to see the picturesque Zanskar valley and the fast flowing blue river and explore one of Ladakh’s most remote regions.

There are additional options for a day trip, namely the astronomical observatory at Hanle and the Tso Moriri Lake, but both these places would mean lots of traveling and hence I have not put them in my list here, though they will make ideal 2-day trips.

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