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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hello and Thank you from South East Asia

During my nine months in South East Asia, I learned quite a bit of the local languages while I was in that country. Apart from Bahasa Indonesia, which I remember a bit more than the other languages, the only words that I remember in all languages is ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’. I remember them as I used them extensively during my stay in each country. Below table provides Hello’s and Thank you’s in the 10 different South East Asian languages. Hope it makes it an interesting read for you. Do remember to practice it before you go to that country. It will help break the ice and might come in handy during your travels.

Country Hello Thank you
Thailand Sawadee Kaaa (Female)
Sawadee Khap (Male)
Khaup Kun Kaaa (Female)
Khaup Kun Khap (Male)
Cambodia Susudaay Aackhun
Vietnam Sin Chaao Kaum On
Laos Sabaidee Khaup Chai
Myanmar Mingalabaa Jejhujamarey
Singapore Hello Thank you/Terima Kasih/Nanri
Malaysia Hello Terima Kasih
Brunei Hello Terima Kasih
Indonesia Hallo Terima Kasih
Philippines Kumusta Selamat

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Sukowati Market: Bali’s Shopping Paradise

If you are in Bali, love shopping, like to indulge in bargain shopping and wish to see some of Bali’s best goods under one roof, you have to visit the Sukowati market, about 10 kms outside of Ubud in Central Bali. The proposition gets even more interesting if you are female as most of the stores stock goods that aim to woo female travelers across the world. This is the place where you can get authentic Balinese goods at local prices and I promise based on my personal experience that these prices would make your mouth open wide in wonder and make you catch the first flight to Bali just to shop here.

Inside Bali's Sukowati Market
To start with, the Sukowati market is not your fancy shopping mall, but an association to promote the goods manufactured and hand-crafted by the people living in Bali. It is due to this very vision that the prices here are the cheapest in Bali. In fact, most of the shop owners in the tourist areas of Bali buy/procure their goods from here.

Street side Painting shop at Pasar Sukowati, Bali
The market is open from 7 AM through 4 PM all days of the week. There are small stalls around the market to take care of the hungry and thirsty shopper. These establishments dish out some of Bali and Indonesia’s best drinks and dishes making it a street culinary cum shopping experience. If you get lucky, you might see a temple procession go by, like how I saw on one of the days I was shopping at Sukowati.

Bead Necklaces for sale in Sukowati Market, Bali
The people running these shops are poor and hence look to start their opening prices very high, just to land a significant profit somehow. But, they do not like to lose a prospective customer and hence are always open to bargaining. In fact, bargaining is welcomed with a warm smile here. Depending on the goods you purchase and its volume, the final price can be as much as 20% to 30% of the opening price. Sometimes, even 10%.

The famous masks of Bali, Indonesia
Like I said earlier, this place is primarily for the female traveler with beadwork, necklaces, lots of clothes that include alibaba pants, dresses, tops, t-shirts, sarongs, beachwear and more,  and Bali Batik handbags. The motifs are vibrant and colorful in a way like the Balinese culture, which is very warm and graceful. If you have good bargaining skills, you should be able to land a dress for $1 to $2 per piece. And a Bali Batik handbag for $1. That is how cheap this place is and the quality is the same as you would see in a shop in Kuta or Ubud. The cost is just 5 to 10 times lesser.

Different faces of Bali on sale at Pasar Sukowati, Bali
For the men, there are the usual clothing items like T Shirts and shorts. But, the more interesting ones are the Balinese paintings, Bali masks, Barong motif designs, a variety of statues, wooden carvings and intricate work, the garuda works and stunning metal work. In addition, one can find the usual souvenirs like Barong T Shirts, Fridge magnets, Bali batik work, wooden crafts and more.

The Garudas of Bali, Indonesia
For me, it was the Balinese paintings that piqued my attention. These very beautiful and creative paintings would be designed by local artisans and kept at parking lots on under the shaded roof of another shop for lack of money to rent out shop space. These paintings depict everything from Balinese culture, the countryside living, Balinese temples and homes, paddy fields, underwater life and generic stuff like flowers, waterfalls, gods and more.

Paintings shop by the street at Sukowati Market, Bali, Indonesia
Even though these Balinese paintings are set by the roadside and in sidewalks, they have to be the hottest selling item in the entire Sukowati market. The price for this quality of painting (A2 size) can be as low as $2 or $3. Personally, I was very tempted to pick at least 4 of these paintings, but due to the fact that I was going to travel for many more months, I gave up the thought. But, on my next Bali trip, I know the first thing that I want to buy.

A shop in Sukowati Market, Ubud, Bali
Like the batiks are Indonesia’s culture symbol, I think the masks of Indonesia are also one of their main culture icons. Each island of Indonesia and to be more specific, each region of each island has their own style. Bali has its own style too and it resembles the Bali Barongs and in fact, it similar to the ‘asuras’ of India with more vibrant colors and vivid definitions.

Temple procession at Sukowati, Bali
Whatever your taste may be and whether you like bargain shopping or not, you should visit Sukowati market just to see all of Bali’s work in one place. It gets even better when you can carry it back home for an affordable price. The Bali’s umbrella shaped temples draw a lot of attention. Bali’s surfing waves and pristine beaches are world famous. I think the Sukowati market falls in the same category. The main positive outcome will be the money spent by us will go right to the roots, to the actual people creating and producing these goods. Do not forget Sukowati market, Bali’s true shopping paradise.

Note: Sukowati market does not have bus service from Denpasar, Kuta or Ubud. The best way to get here is a rented motorcycle or a taxi.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

How to use your money wisely in South East Asia Travels

South East Asia is one of the more cheaper places to travel around the world. But, if you are not careful with your money, you might end up losing this value proposition. Below is a list of all the things every traveler should keep in mind to ensure they get maximum value for their money in South East Asia. These are based on my recent backpacking experience across South East Asia, but can be extended across most of the countries in the world.

South East Asian Currencies 
Banking: ATM Withdrawals
1) Try a carry a travel card that does not charge you a fee every time you swipe it at an ATM. Check with your bank for options and details.
2) Ensure that the bank who provides your ATM card has a good global coverage
3) Visa or Master card is the more accepted card type. I would recommend visa especially in the developing countries as they have a stronger reach.
4) Do some online research to find out the charges of cash withdrawals and limits for the various banks in a country before landing in that country. For e.g. Aeon Bank in Thailand, Canadia Bank in Cambodia and Techcom Bank in Vietnam do not charge ATM or withdrawal fees for international transactions.
5) Carry two (2) international debit/ATM cards. One should be visa and the other should be master card.
6) Since most of the banks charge withdrawal fees for each transaction, it might be sensible to take the maximum permissible amount at one go. However, this would mean carrying  thick wad of bills on your person. Can affect safety for some travelers.

Banking: Credit Cards
1) Do not use your credit card to withdraw money from ATMs unless you have no other option. Credit card companies charge a huge interest for cash withdrawals
2) Most of South East Asian establishments charge a fee of 2-15% of the total amount for a credit card transaction. However, this fee is not charged in many larger establishments.
3) Use credit cards as an emergency mechanism for raising cash.
4) Again, like an ATM card, carry 2 credit cards (one visa and the other master card) to take care of your online transactions while you are traveling (hotel booking, ticket booking, etc.)
5) Use credit cards for online transactions. This helps in reducing online fraud and gives you more security. 

Foreign Exchange
1) It is always a good practice to keep some US Dollars with you. The greenback is one of the more accepted currencies around the world and in South East Asia. You will always get good value for it. $100 and $50 will provide you more value than $20, $10 and smaller denominations.
2) In Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia especially, the US Dollar will take you a long way. Plus, the US Dollar comes in handy to pay visa fees for Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia.
3) These days, most countries have fully functional ATMs to dispense local currency. Hence, there is no need to exchange currencies at the airport or bring it in from an earlier country.
4) Airports and border areas give some of the worst foreign exchange rates. If you need local money, use ATMs or exchange your dollars/Euros inside the city to get a much better exchange rate.
5) Use a foreign exchange converter app (like the XE converter) for your tablet/phone to stay on top of the latest foreign exchange rates. It is always good to know the current rates. Thereby, you know how bad or good is the exchange rate you are getting.

Air Travel
1) Do some research and keep track of promotions offered by the different low cost airlines of South East Asia. A little bit of planning can help you save serious amounts of money as South East Asia is one of the top low cost flying hubs of the world.
2) If you are going through a travel agent, ask for a special price.

Shopping
1) South East Asian countries have a culture of bargaining. Hence, you will not be frowned upon if you ask for a discount or a best price. In fact, the locals want you to haggle and it is quite an interesting cultural exchange during such bargain sessions.
2) If you are a person from the western world, who is more used to fixed prices, get out of your comfort zone and learn the trick of bargaining. It is a useful skill to have in this part of the world and will help you save lots of money if you are the shopping type.

Stop Converting Currencies in your head
1) Nearly every traveler converts a local price into his home currency (say Euro) or international currency (say US Dollar). They do this to get a benchmark price, but in most of the South East Asian countries, this technique backfires as these countries are significantly cheaper than the rest of the developed world. What is a cheap price for a Westerner might actually be a hiked up local price. It is good practice to try and understand the local cost structure, like how much it costs for a 10 km taxi ride, a can of coke, a bottle of beer, a bottle of water, a McDonald’s burger, etc. This will help your money go much longer than your initial expectations. In my experience, your money should last ~30% more.

I hope these travel tips help your dollar last longer in South East Asia. If you have any tips based on your experiences, do write them in the comments below and I will be happy to add them in this post with a link back to your page/blog/website.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Casemate: Protecting the Traveler’s Gadgets

As travelers in today's era, most of us carry many gadgets. And as a travel blogger, I end up carrying a bit more. Our travels take us to places far and wide and through difficult weather and terrain. And all this requires protection for our dear and expensive gadgets, which we seem to use almost every day, if not every key moment. There are many products out there in the market that offer protection to our gadgets, but the one that comes to my mind is Casemate. I use some of their cases to protect my iPad mini and my phone. I thought it would be a good idea if I reviewed them and shared my thoughts here. 

Casemate cases
Casemate
is India’s leading brand for fashion forward accessories for mobiles, smartphones and tablets. They not only provide protection to our gadgets, but its fashion sense gives it a lifestyle flavor too. The best thing about Casemate products is that they go across the board and support many mobile devices that include iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, HTC, Nokia, Sony Xperia, Google Nexus, Blackberry and many more and this ensures that whatever your device is, you will find a stylish case for it.

Personally, I have used three Casemate cases for the gadgets in my house. Below is a quick review of those cases.

iPad Mini Tough Extreme

iPad Mini Tough Extreme Casemate CaseThe iPad Mini Tough Extreme is a military grade case that provides the ultimate protection for my iPad Mini. Its toughness ensures that I need not be worried about how and where I use my tablet. It’s thin construction, sleek and non-bulky style makes it look very trendy. It has 3 layers of extreme protection that includes a built-in screen protector, impact resistant Polycore hard outer shell and a shock absorbing DuoFlex interior liner that protects it against shock/drop, wind/rain, sand/dust and vibration.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Tough

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Tough Casemate Case
This is again a tough case to ensure carefree use. It’s dual layered design beautifully balances the impact resistant polycarbonate hard shell with a shock absorbing interior cushion. Its rugged and textured finish ensures that I can hold it securely and steadily even during in humid weather. The case is so small that you hardly notice it except for its benefits.

iPhone 5 Brushed Aluminium 

Brushed Aluminium Case for iPhone 5
This is one of those cases that makes your beautiful phone look gorgeous. And this is one of the reasons why Casemate is one of the top mobile case designer in the world. This Brushed Aluminum case comes with a blend of sleek, sporty look and top notch protection. The inlay flawlessly fits together with the hard shell that surrounds the edges of the iPhone. This case just ups the style quotient by a long way.

These are just 3 cases that I have personally used. Casemate has many cases and styles for each mobile device. And they also come in different cost ranges to suit everyone’s budget. If you wish to know more about Casemate products and stay on top of their latest releases, follow their Facebook page, twitter updates and blog.

Note: All the photographs in this post are copyright of Case-Mate India.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Island Hopping off El Nido, Philippines

Island hopping off El Nido has been the most treasured holiday for all Filipinos and there is a lot of good reasons for this trait. The foreign tourists are slowly discovering this too. Be it scuba diving, snorkeling, cave diving, swimming in lagoons, discovering caves and lagoons, relaxing on deserted beaches and/or sipping a tropical cocktail on a pristine beach, the waters off El Nido play host to innumerable options.

In one of the lagoons near El Nido, Philippines
Traditionally, all the attention of beach vacationers go to Boracay, the party capital of Philippines. It also has great beaches and good connectivity with the rest of the country. May be, this was the reason, El Nido went undiscovered for a long while. Even today, getting to El Nido would mean taking a flight to Puerto Princesa and then doing a 6 hour bus/van ride to El Nido or taking an expensive private charter from Manila. Today’s visitors are bearing a little hardship to indulge in El Nido’s nature and charms.

El Nido Banka Oarman at work
Whatever the reasons may be, the limestone karsts, the sensational cave systems, the amazing underwater life and nature here follows a life of its own. It is believed that the Palawan island was once connected to Borneo and due to tectonic forces moved away as a land mass of its own millions of years ago. Hence, most of Palawan’s ecosystem is related to Borneo and in some ways unique.

Enroute to the secret lagoon in the waters off El Nido, Philippines
Most of the people who wish to do island hopping off the waters of El Nido stay in El Nido, keep it as a base and do island hopping as day trips. There are other luxurious options where in one can stay on the luxury resorts on some of these islands and explore from there. Off late, a third option has become a possibility where tourists can camp in basic style amidst the rugged nature of one of the remote islands. All three options have takers, but the one that is more popular is the first one, since staying at El Nido comes with various perks, like good food, decent party scene, healthcare and connectivity.

One of the many small and beautiful beaches near El Nido, Philippines
One can either take a private tour or go on a group tour to visit the various islands. There are many tour companies who advertise the options and their prices. As a thumb rule, the tour package and the price remains the same. The prices remain standard unless you join at the last moment, in which case, you can request for a discount.

Tour boats moored in the lagoons off El Nido, Philippines
If I remember right, there are tours from A to F and Tour A and Tour C are said to be the best of the lot as they offer a good combination of swimming, snorkeling, lagoons, caves, beaches and more. Most of the tours cost between 600 and 1000 PHP per person. This includes snorkels and lunch. If you are vegetarian, you might need to inform in advance to give you vegetarian food for lunch. Generally, lunch consists of pork, fish, salad and rice.

The beautiful Small Lagoon area off El Nido, Philippines
A typical tour would start in the morning at 9 AM from the El Nido beach on a banka (traditional Filipino boat). Depending on the size of the banka, the group size could vary from 8 to 20 people. If the weather is bad, the boat ride could get rough, but generally, the short distances ensure that sea sickness is nearly unknown on these island hopping trips. Depending on the tour, you will spend time swimming in lagoons, snorkeling in coral reefs, crawling through caves, climbing up view points, sipping a cocktail, seeing beautiful sights and/or relaxing on a beach.

Beach Bar on Seven Commandos Beach near El Nido, Philippines
If you happen to plan a holiday to El Nido, do ensure that island hopping stays on top of your to do list. If you have less time, try out Tour A and C and if you have more, try all of the tours. The perfect El Nido holiday is waking up to the sounds of waves crashing, having breakfast, going on an island hopping tour, indulge in pristine nature along with some physical activity and sunshine, a relaxed evening and then some partying in the night before continuing the same routine for the successive days. Get ready to be enchanted!

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Durian: The King of South East Asian Fruits

This fruit is native to Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. It is exported the most by Thailand. It is considered obnoxious by some and divine by the others. It is banned in many hotels and public transportation across South East Asia. It’s pungent aroma is what makes this fruit special. It has a hard thorny shell and is succulent yellow (sometimes red) flesh inside. It is seasonal in nature and fruits primarily during the rainy season. It is consumed as a fruit and is a major ingredient in many south east Asian drinks and desserts. This is the Durian, the king of all South East Asian Fruits.

Durian Fruit Stall on the streets of Penang, Malaysia
Most of the people do not come even close to tasting this fruit as they find its smell to be a huge turn-off. Even the ones who end up trying it may not necessarily like it. But, the ones who like it absolutely love it and will vouch for its excellent taste and nutritious properties. Well, to start with, this fruit is fairly nutritious with a lot of vitamins and potassium in it. It also has a lot of carbohydrates and raw fats. It is considered a cooling agent too.

The pungent Durian fruit being cut
The fruit is extremely popular in South East Asia and this can be seen through the many Durian specialty stalls in the major cities across South East Asia. Even better is Singapore’s esplanade, which is designed like a Durian. Personally, I find the smell overpowering, but I like its taste. I prefer the slightly riper version even though they smell stronger. Have you tried the king of south east Asian fruits? What did you think of it?

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Travel Photo: Penang’s Trishaw

Penang is the food capital of Malaysia, but it is also equally well known for its colonial history and the UNESCO world heritage site of George town, which sits on one corner of this island. The bulk of tourists coming to Penang visit George town and its historic buildings that are situated in a fairly small area. While, it is easy to explore all of these attractions by foot, the true charm of Penang’s Georgetown can be felt while exploring these sights on a trishaw, an icon of Penang’s culture.

Tri Shaw on the streets of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Whether you are a family, a couple or even a solo traveler, the trishaw gives you a special experience. There are a lot of positive effects to using the trishaw too. The air and noise pollution levels in the UNESCO World Heritage area comes down and this will ensure that the historic buildings last longer. Also, it allows the poor community of hard working trishaw drivers to make a decent living out of ferrying tourists. These trishaw drivers are pretty knowledgeable and double up as tourist guides. The next time you are in Penang’s Georgetown and looking to explore the UNESCO World heritage area, do remember to take a ride on the trishaw.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

30 Random Things about Malaysia

In the last leg of my Asia backpacking trip, I spent 21 days in Malaysia across Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Sepilok, Kinabatangan River and Tawau in the Sabah state of Borneo and Langkawi, Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Western Malaysia. During these three weeks, I came across some very interesting things about this very popular tourist country. I have noted them out below to provide an insightful read.

1) During most of the times, it is cheaper to fly inside Malaysia than taking the bus.

2) Immigration protocol is followed even inside Malaysia when one moves from either Sabah to Sarawak state in Borneo or from either Sabah/Sarawak to Western Malaysia and vice versa.

3) Gasoline is just 60 cents a liter in Malaysia.

4) Even though Malaysia is a famous shopping destination, most of its goods are cheaper in other countries. It just brings all of it nicely in its many malls.

5) Malaysians drive on the left side of the road and overtake from the right.

6) There are more palm plantations in Borneo than rainforests.

7) One can see rare breeds of primates (apes, langurs, tarsiers and macaques) in the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary of Sabah, Borneo.

8) The highest mountain in the world between the Himalayas and the snow capped mountains of Papua in Indonesia is in Borneo.

9) Most of the touristy goods in Malaysia are imported from Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

10) Apart from crude oil, palm oil and tea, Malaysia hardly manufactures anything in huge quantities.

11) The famous Roti Canai of Malaysia is in fact India’s Malabar Parantha and Teh Tarikh is India’s normal sweet milk tea.

12) Malaysia is one of those countries where one can see Chinese people licking and smacking their fingers after eating South Indian banana leaf meals.

13) Malaysia is a very tourism oriented country. Everyone is nice and polite to the tourists and even go out of their way to help them.

14) It costs a little over 20 US Dollars to spend 30 minutes (2 batches of 15 minutes each) in the Petronas Twin Towers, the 4th highest building in the world.

15) For a city its class, Kuala Lumpur is a fairly polluted and dirty city.

16) Malaysia is a healthy mix of people of Malay, Chinese, Indian origins. There are some expats from other countries in addition to this mix.

17) There are many duty free zones inside Malaysia and outside of its international airports.

18) The Georgetown area of Penang makes you feel like you have entered the colonial era.

19) It would be difficult not to see a Tamil person in most of the larger cities of Malaysia.

20) Saravana Bhavan in Kuala Lumpur is possibly one of the worst Saravana Bhavan outlets in the world.

21) The taxis running in Malaysia are really old and are all outdated ones coming out of Singapore.

22) One has to walk on the tarmac between the air plane and the arrival/departure lounge at the LCCT terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

23) The Malaysian men love to smoke and most of them don’t care about others when they do smoke. They smoke in front of their kids (even young babies), inside restaurants and even air-conditioned buses.

24) The Malaysians get excited if they find out that you know even a little bit of Malay and start conversing rapidly with you in Malay.

25) The people of Malaysia speak better English than the rest of South East Asia, with the exception of Singapore and Philippines.

26) It can get quite nippy during the early mornings in the forests of Borneo and this can lead to some heavy mist, especially over the water.

27) Healthcare is fairly pricey in Malaysia when compared to Thailand, Indonesia and India.

28) Most of the Indians living in Malaysia are from the South of India and primarily Tamilians. Hence, most of the Indian restaurants running in Malaysia are actually South Indian or Tamilian restaurants.

29) A Hindu or a Christian Malaysian of Indian origin has to pose as a Muslim (and have a Muslim name) to get a taxi driver license/permit in Malaysia.

30) Like Singapore, Malaysia has four national languages: Malay or Bahasa Malaysia, English, Chinese and Tamil.

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The Rise of the Chinese Traveler

If you have been traversing across the globe, you would have definitely noticed the rise of the Chinese traveler. These days, people from China seem to be everywhere. I mean not as immigrants, which is on the rise too, but more so, the Chinese travelers. Their numbers have increased so much that the entire travel community is creating a special China focus area in their business plan. You can see Chinese translators at key tourist hot spots and then you have all these travel companies and agents have their information lied out in Chinese. I have noticed this trend too and have in fact come in touch with many of them personally during my travels. I have put them into different buckets to help understand their true travel personalities.

The Super Rich Chinese Traveler
The entire world knows that 99% of the products they come in touch with is manufactured in China and hence it comes as no surprise that this has led to some of the Chinese people becoming super rich. To see the amount of money they have, walk into some of Macau’s casinos during a weekend and see bets worth millions of dollars being placed. These are travelers who don’t flinch at seeing the bill. They are out there to sample special destinations and don’t care how much it costs.

The Rich Chinese Middle Class Traveler
They wear designer labels and don’t flinch while swiping their card for a $10,000 watch in Hong Kong. They are the luxury traveler and can be seen in five star hotels in Kenya, Tanzania, Italy, Hawaii, Bahamas, Bali and other exotic destinations. They love to be pampered and indulge in massages, spa treatment and good food. Some of them speak English, while the rest speak Mandarin only. I hate to say this, but some of them are also very loud and rude.

The Large Chinese Tour Groups
There is no other country on the planet that travels in larger groups than the people from mainland China. I have personally seen 20 buses in Siem Reap and 200 tuk tuks in Thailand ferrying large groups of Chinese travelers. Generally, all these groups come with Chinese translators and tour guides. A lot of tour agencies in China cater to such kind of travelers who like to travel, but need their own flavor. These people love to stick to their kind and try and eat Chinese cuisine. They are middle aged to elderly people who seek a bit of luxury and comfort.

The English Speaking Young Chinese Backpacker
The younger generation of Chinese people either speak crisp American English or speak passable English. Their gadgets are like second skin to them. I think they are possibly the most obsessive users of social media in the world. They have been bitten by the backpacking bug and bitten real hard. They stay in hostels and do budget travel. They like to experiment. They break the ‘standard Chinese travel’ style and go out of the way. You will see them in places where you typically will only see die-hard European backpackers. They do both short vacations as well as gap years.

If you are a travel outfit and don’t have a China focus area, I advise that you re-look at your plan and think of the potential of a billion plus people with rising income and increasing travel appetites, but who prefer their own style of travel.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Fridge Magnets from South East Asia

Welcome back! I got a lot of such phrases from many of you when I landed in India a couple of days back. Thank you so much for giving me such a warm welcome. I would like to thank you in return by showing you South East Asia through fridge magnets. These are the magnets that I collected over 267 days and 12 countries.

Fridge Magnet Collection_South East Asia
I had purchased more magnets, but this is what remains on my metal wardrobe doors after my sister and my friends wacked some for their respective fridges. To all those who do not know my travel shopping habits, the two things that I collect religiously from my travels are fridge magnets and currencies and to a small extent, rare wooden work and masks.

Fridge Magnets from South East Asia
I hope you like this magnet tour! I am slowly settling back into the Indian lifestyle. The first two days were tiring as I found it difficult to get used to the polluted air in Bangalore, but I am doing much better today. I have a lot of stories and pictures to share with all of you. Do stay tuned for a lot of my South East Asia experiences.

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Hotel Ocean 77: Comfortable stay in the middle of all action in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown

The last few days of my Asia backpacking trip was at Kuala Lumpur, the hub of Malaysia. As with many other major cities, I decided to stay right in the middle of the tourist district and ended up staying in the heart of KL’s Chinatown on Jalan Petaling. The place I stayed at was called Hotel Ocean 77 and the below review is based on my recent experience of staying 4 days and 4 nights here.

1) Hotel Ocean 77 is right in the middle of Jalan Petaling, in the heart of Chinatown, a short walk to Central market and to Little India and the Pasar Seni MTR is very close by. This gives it prime location.

2) For its quality, it is great value for money. It lacks in space, but apart from that it takes care of all modern luxury (Elevator, good air-conditioner, cleanliness, good mattresses, hot shower, fast shower, LCD Television, access card entry, CCTV Cameras and more).

3) They do not have a kitchen and hence do not offer any food or drinks.

4) They offer free wi-fi, but the speeds are terribly slow.

5) The reception is helpful in providing you with directions, maps, etc.

6) This hotel is ideal for those looking to do a lot of curio, gifts and fake shopping.

7) The Bukit Bintang shopping district is also a short walk away, making it perfect for shoppers.

8) All kinds of restaurants and super markets are located close by to take care of the heavy influx of tourists here.

This hotel is good for budget travelers, couples and families looking to keep Chinatown as a base and explore the rest of KL around it.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Travel Photo: Filipino Boatmen

Filipinos by nature are very easy going and welcoming people. It is hard to see them without a smile on their face. They seem to have taken their tough past and poverty in their stride and seem to enjoy whatever they do. During my travel days in the Philippines, I would always end up having great conversations with Filipinos and Filipinas alike.

Filipino Boatmen taking us to the Sabang underground river
In this case, I had an interesting conversation with these two Filipino gentlemen who take the Puerto Princesa Underground river customers from Sabang to the river on their boat. They come from poor backgrounds, have very basic education and apart from taking tourists, they double up as fishermen in the night. In spite of all this, they seemed to enjoy their work and seemed to learn a lot of things too. The people of Philippines have a lot of humility and joy in them and it was personified in these two Filipino boatmen.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Travel Style by Country

During my days of backpacking travel, I have met fellow travelers from many countries across the globe. While I spent time with them, I got to know more about their style of travel and also got to hear their views on others. I even made some inferences on my own based on their travel mannerisms and demeanor. This post aims at articulating the travel style of a traveler by their citizenship. This is meant to be a delightful and insightful read and does not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments. There are always exceptions to the rule and this sample is purely based on the travelers that I have personally come across or have heard from other travelers. Hope it makes for an interesting read.

P.S. This sample consists of travelers who do backpacking, take tours, do middle class trips, take a luxury vacation, do off beat trips and more. Basically, the sample size is huge across a wide variety of travelers.

France
The French are daredevil travelers. They tread into the remotest parts on the planet without knowing any language except French. They simply expect everyone to speak and understand French.

England/Scotland/Ireland
They are well traveled, but need a watering hole every evening/night. They are more off beat travelers, but can get rough with a little bit of alcohol in them.

United States of America
Non-existent travelers. One of the superpowers to have the least number of travelers. The travelers that you see are worried about anything and everything they might face in their travels. Always look for comfort.

Canada
Unlike their neighbor, these guys love to travel and travel dirty. Don’t care much about comfort and travel for the experience.

Germany
Good travelers, but mostly travel by the book. Do not venture off the track much. They are very well mannered travelers though.

Scandinavia
Mainly one location travelers. They have two conditions for their holiday destination – it should be cheap and it should have lots of sunshine. Their holidays are fairly long, but their travels are fairly limited.

Netherlands
Good travelers, but not a lot of them get out of their comfort zone. But, there are a lot of Dutch travelers out there considering the fact that their overall population is less.

Switzerland
The Swiss are good travelers, but again, do not venture off the beaten track. They are very polite and love to be comfortable.

Japan
Very quiet travelers. It is next to impossible to get a Japanese to raise their voice. They are well traveled too.

China
Loud and rude travelers. Love to travel in humongous sized groups. Stick to their kind. A few young ones break the trend. Also, known to spend a lot of money in their travels. Obsessive about the mobile phone and social media.

India
Five Star hotel travelers. Love to take tour packages. Are more tourists than travelers. Good accommodation and good food is more important than the travel experience for them.

South Africa
They are the most worried about safety when they travel from a lesser safe country (South Africa) to a more safe country. Duh!

Australia
Love cheap destinations. Love the ocean and the surf. Possess immense appetite for beer and drinks. Are pretty well traveled too.

Spain
Louder than the other European travelers. Can also get a bit possessive and rough at times. Are known to do really budget travel and don’t mind getting dirty.

Russia
Love to stick to their own kind. Sometimes, they hate the other kind and they make it very apparent. Prefer coastal places with lots of sunshine.

South Korea
Surprisingly, a very fresh mode of travelers. They travel in small to medium sized groups, but are not as quiet as Japan or as loud as China. Speak better English and are very open to talking to strangers.

Eastern Europe
Travelers with a free style. Don’t worry about anything and travel with utmost freedom. Indulge in a lot of extreme sports.

New Zealand
Completely different from Australia and England. Go about their own business quietly. Love adventure.

Argentina
European style backpackers with a special flair about them. Make excellent companions for travel.

Brazil
Surprisingly, original travelers who have their own style.

Israel
Hardened travelers due to their military background. Also, known to break many rules while they travel.

Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia
Picnic travelers. Also, shopping travelers. May be, weekend travelers too. They wait for the cheapest price, fly to a destination, meet their friends, wine n dine in style and do some shopping. Then, they fly back home. Also, obsessive users of the mobile phone and social media.

Serbia, Venezuela, Egypt, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Mexico, Turkey, Philippines, Colombia, Chile, Lithuania, Algiers, Morocco, Peru You hardly see them traveling. But, they can be seen, albeit rarely.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hotel Noble: Homely Family Run Guest House in Penang’s Georgetown

I landed in Penang’s Georgetown without any booking on the day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri (national holiday in Malaysia) and ended up walking many of the streets in the world heritage site area only to be told that they were all booked full. As I kept my search going, I landed at this place called ‘Hotel Noble’ on Lorong Pasar (near Love Lane). Thankfully, they had one room available and we ended up staying here for 3 nights. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying here.

1) The hotel is located inside the heritage zone, which gives it great location. All tourist attractions, restaurants, shopping zones, super markets, travel agencies and bus stops are all within walking distance.

2) The hotel is run by a Chinese family who are eager to make your stay comfortable.

3) The hotel does not have an in-house kitchen and hence you will have to have all your meals outside.

4) The hotel has free wi-fi,though the speeds are not super great.

5) They have large sized rooms, which are either fan cooled or air-conditioned. The spring mattresses can sometimes test your back or may be it is me.

6) All rooms come with shared toilets and bathrooms. These are clean, but sometimes you have to wait during the early hours of the morning.

7) The fan cooled rooms do not have any plug points, but they do provide external plug points to charge your gadgets. They charge 2 MYR per day for this.

8) The hotel front desk helps with maps, directions, bus bookings and other tourist requirements. They also stock water, juices and electrolytes at fair prices.

9) The good thing about the hotel is that most of it is open and hence is well light and airy. One can sit in any of their vast open spaces and read a book/work, etc.

10) The hotel offers laundry service for an additional cost.

If you are a family or a traveler looking to spend quality time in Penang, you can look at this hotel. It is not necessarily the best in terms of facilities, but its homely atmosphere and budget cost makes up for the loss.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jeepneys of Philippines

They are a symbol of Philippines’s culture and art. They are originally US military jeeps left over from World War II. Today, the Jeepney is the most popular source of public transportation in the Philippines. It is also the cheapest. Its chrome plated finishing and colorful designs are a sure eye-catcher. They are so popular that they are seen everywhere in the Philippines including even some remote villages.

The famous Jeepneys of Philippines
They look like elongated versions of the jeep. This is to enable it to carry more passengers. This same jeepney is also responsible for a lot of air pollution and traffic snarls in Manila. The jeepney drivers are also known to honk copiously. But, keeping the negatives aside, I think the jeepney is quite a sight and an experience. A trip to Philippines is not complete without traveling in one of these jeepneys.

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Duli Beach: Remote Beauty in Northern Palawan, Philippines

A lot of travelers to El Nido miss visiting some of its most beautiful beaches on the mainland. Some diehards brave the sand flies and visit the very scenic Nacpan beach, but only a few crazy travelers brave the bad roads and cross green paddy fields to reach a section of forest that leads to the Duli beach. To the outside world, Duli does not exist, but if you check with the locals, they will guide you towards a small dirt track that is navigable by foot, bike and motorbike. This stretch through paddy fields and forests leads to a very remote stretch of beach flanked by tall hills on either side of it.

Remote and beautiful Duli Beach of Palawan, Philippines
The good thing about this beach apart from its remoteness is the relative lack of sand flies when compared to the Nacpan beach and the fact that the waves are gentler here and the waters are very sandy. This makes the beach a heaven for swimming and sun bathing. There are some trees on either corner of the beach where you can put your towel and hammock and read a book if you wish to stay away from the sun. In terms of infrastructure, there is absolutely nothing here. You will not even find another human soul here unless some crazy traveler like you has made it there. If you need any food or drinks, head back the dirt trail and cross the 8 kilometers over the hill and goto Dagmay beach. Duli beach is about 35 kilometers from El Nido and one needs to rent a motorbike or car to reach here. The last kilometer can get slushy in the rains and hence caution is advised. If you ever go there, try and keep the place as it is so that many more like me can enjoy its remote and clean beauty.

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Sweet Inn Motel: Good Budget Accommodation for families and couples in Langkawi, Malaysia

Generally, I stay in backpacker style accommodation or hostels, but since my sister and her husband joined me for a short location, we tried finding a family friendly place in Langkawi and that is how we ended up at the Sweet Inn Motel in the Pantai Cenang area of Langkawi. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying 4 nights here.

1) The hotel comes with decent sized rooms that can fit 3 people comfortably. When I booked these rooms initially over Agoda, I ended up paying 110 Ringgits, but when I extended the initial booking for 2 more nights, the hotel owner was kind enough to give it to me for 70 Ringgits.

2) Each room is air-conditioned and comes with an attached bathroom that has hot shower facility. There is also a shared balcony with 2 easy lounge chairs.

3) Free breakfast is served every morning from 7 AM to 10 AM. This includes, toast, rice/noodles, egg/chicken and cornflakes/milk. The breakfast is nothing special, but not bad too.

4) The place comes with free wi-fi, but sometimes the wi-fi fails to connect in the 1st floor rooms. The speeds are good though.

5) This hotel is all about location. It is one street behind the Pantai Cenang beach and hence that is a plus. It is located close to the taxi stand, laundry stores, travel agencies, restaurants, shops and more. This makes it a great place to stay as one doesn’t need to walk too much to fulfill basic travel needs.

6) The good things about this hotel is that it is located in a very quiet part of the happening area, the people running the place are very cordial and eager to help and the rooms are very clean.

7) The hotel arranges tours too and the cost is more or less similar to what is available with other travel agencies. However, some shops do sell these tours at a much lower cost.

A lot of people staying here were couples or families with young children. They were all happy with the place and so were we. I would stay here again if I went with my family.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Corong Corong: Scenic stretch in North Palawan, Philippines

When someone thinks of northern Palawan, the first thing that comes into mind is El Nido. El Nido is sure very pretty with stunning limestone karsts, underwater life, lagoons and more, but a short distance from it in Corong Corong, where one can see this pristine nature from a high vantage point. And when you want to get close to it, you can just walk down to the Las Cabanas or Marimekmek beach below.

Scenic Corong Corong Bay view of Palawan
This is also one of those places to see the best sunsets near El Nido and the mighty limestone karsts here cast quite a surreal definition to this panorama. There are some places to stay here if you wish to be close to this view for a longer while. Swimming areas are good in patches as most of the waters here is shallow and rocky and is very tricky to get into during low tide. But, one can go island hopping during low tide and enjoy a swim during high tides.

View of the bay from Corong Corong, Palawan
Unlike El Nido, Corong Corong does not have too much of a night scene, but it is not for the party type, but for the quieter types. At six kilometers from El Nido, Corong Corong can be easily visited either on a rented motorbike or a tricycle (one way 100 pisos) as part of a day trip with most people preferring to visit it from noon till sunset.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Banaue Rice Terraces: of ancient ifugao traditions and a natural wonder

Rice terraces are no way more picturesque in the world than northern Philippines. It seems here like the Ifugao people had mastered this skill a long time ago and that’s why most of the places in the mountain area of northern Philippines sport rice terraces of all types and dimensions.

Banaue Rice Terraces of Philippines - a sight to behold
They are definitely one of Philippines’s highlights and have rightly been bestowed the UNESCO world heritage site tag. These mud walls that protect these rice terraces from falling apart during the rains is all made by hand and absolutely no mechanization is used here. Even today, one can see how these rice terraces are maintained.

Banaue Ricer Terraces and the Banaue town in the background
Depending on the season, one can either see the paddy planting, green  colors or the rich golden yellow color during harvest time. While I was there, I got to see some in the golden yellow stage and some in the dark green phase making it a vivid experience for me.

Ifugao sculptures near the Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
The best way to explore these rice terraces is by walk. If you are based at Banaue, a one hour walk on the main road will take you via four to five different view points. Each one of them will give you a different view and will rival the others for spectacular-ness. If you feel more adventurous, you can climb the hills on the opposite side to get aerial and long distance views.

Lush green Banaue Rice Terraces covered by monsoon clouds
There is nothing much at these view points except for some souvenir shops and small places to eat/drink. These souvenir shops run by the locals can give you some great bargains and also help in generating revenue for the local people.

Ifugao Sculptures and Banaue Rice Terraces
If you cannot walk, you can hire a tricycle or a car from Banaue to these various view points along with a guide to understand the history behind these rice terraces and the traditions associated with it. Once one reaches the last view point, one can take the forest and rice terrace trek to return to Banaue. This way is more scenic, but requires certain level of fitness, a good pair of shoes and a guide.

Rice Terraces from Banaue View Point
Most of these people who try this rice terrace and forest view without a guide end up losing their way or go around in circles. Hence it is always recommended to take a guide on this trek. The trek is strenuous in bits, but the views are sensational. You will see stretches that you would get to see from the main road and/or the view points.

Elderly Ifugao Tribal Woman at Banaue, Philippines
The best time to see these rice terraces would be in the first half of the day as the second half of the day get cloudy and rains can be expected more in the 2nd half of the day than in the first half.

Elderly Ifugao Tribal Women at Banaue rice terraces view point, Philippines
Banaue is located about 9 to 10 hours by bus from Manila. Day buses are good if you want to see the views and night trips are good if you want to save on the cost of a night’s accommodation. These buses can be a bit cramped and can get seriously cold.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Flying Low Cost in South East Asia

Low cost travel is currently one of the most trending things in the world of travel. It is a well known paradigm that precious dollars saved while flying can be used to fly more/longer distances and/or enhance your overall travel experience. But, there is hardly an information source on the web that allows you to book that best deal even though they say that they help land the best deals. Through a fellow traveler, I found a site called wegolo that compares low cost flights across the world, but even that doesn’t help me get the lowest flight rates. It is a pretty good site in its own right though. Hence, I had to devise my own method as I traveled across the length and breadth of South East Asia, one of the supreme low cost belts in the world.

Flying low cost in South East Asia
I would talk to locals to figure out which airlines are good for which zones and then would subscribe to their newsletters, updates and keep track of offers on their Facebook and twitter pages. The end result is that I only paid above $50 and less than $100 for 3 flights and for the rest of all the flights that I took in my 9 month south east Asia trip, I paid below $50 and for some of them, I even paid as low as $11. And these prices include the cost of my check-in baggage. I spent a little bit more time on the web, but ended up flying 3 flights for the cost of one. According to me, my time was justified.

This post aims at sharing my learnings of which low cost airlines work out the cheapest in which country so that you can keep a track of them, follow their updates before you plan your next trip to one of the ten south east Asian countries.

Broadly across the board, there are 4 airlines that you should follow closely cause they give some insanely low prices. They are Air Asia, Tiger Air, Cebu Pacific Airlines and JetStar.

The other ones per country are listed below:

Thailand
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air, Jetstar, Cebu Pacific

Domestic: Air Asia, Tiger Air, NokAir, Orient Thai Airlines

Cambodia
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air, JetStar

Domestic: NA (only full service flights)

Vietnam
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air, JetStar

Domestic: JetStar, VietJet

Laos
International: Air As

Domestic: Lao Airlines (Full service)

Myanmar (Burma) 
International: Air Asia

Domestic: KBZ (Not necessarily budget, but one of the cheapest in Myanmar)

Indonesia 
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air

Domestic: Citilink Indonesia, Air Asia, Tiger Mandala, Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Batavia airlines (Don’t fly as they crash), Merpati Airlines (Don’t fly as they crash)

Singapore 
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air, JetStar, Scoot

Domestic: Not Applicable

Philippines 
International: Cebu Pacific Airlines, Air Asia (Zest Airways), Tiger Air

Domestic: Cebu Pacific, Air Asia (Zest Airways), Tiger Air, Air Philippines

Malaysia 
International: Air Asia, Tiger Air, Cebu Pacific

Domestic: Air Asia, MAS Wings, Firefly

Brunei International: Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, Tiger Air

Domestic: Not Applicable

For wikipedia’s list of low cost airlines by country, click here.

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Economy Air-Cond Hostel: Backpacker Stay in Tawau

Tawau is the gateway to the wildlife and diving spots in East Borneo and since it has a domestic airport, most travellers prefer to stay here a day or two before moving to other destinations. I landed at Tawau at the end of my East Borneo trip and ended up staying a night there at the Economy Air-Cond Hostel. The below review is based on my recent experience.

1) This is one of those places which fits the budget category, has air-conditioning, has hot showers and good speed wi-fi.

2) The only thing weak about this place is that it looks like a shady building from outside and from inside. But, it is well managed with security cameras, has no bed bugs and pretty clean.

3) All rooms come with common toilets and bathrooms. Toilets are squat style.

4) Wifi is free and the speeds are commendable. Wifi is accessible in the rooms too.

5) The people managing the place continuously watch TV during the day and smoke, but this doesn’t affect if you are in the room.

6) The hostel doesn’t have a kitchen for their guests.

7) The hostel is located at a 5 minute walk from the bus station. One can get inter city buses here and also the shuttle to the Tawau airport.

8) The hostel is located in the main happening area and hence the markets, the night market, the super markets, the grocery stores, the restaurants and other shops are all next door or a short walk away.

9) The reception is nice and help to a certain extent, though they are more fluent in Malay than English.

This place is ideal for a quick one or two night layover in Tawau for budget travelers and backpackers. It has all the amenities that a backpacker needs.

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Travel Photo: The El Nido view

El Nido is an obscenely beautiful place. Be it its beaches, its limestone mountains, its lagoons, its caves, its forests or its underwater experience. It is one of those places that you hate to leave once you’ve stayed there for a while. The El Nido town in itself does not have much of these views, but once you are like 2 to 5 kilometers from it, the views get very picturesque.

Silhouettes of the limestone karsts from Las Cabanas Beach, El Nido, Philippines
Take the Las Cabanas beach as an example. It is situated about 5 kms from El Nido and its sunset is iconic. I tried going there to see the sunset, but the clouds would always come in during the evenings. In spite of that, I absolutely adored the mountain view from the beach. The massive limestone islands to the right and the small helicopter island to the left are my favorites.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan: Budget Lodging in Borneo’s nature

There are a lot of lodges and resorts catering to the wildlife enthusiast along the Kinabatangan river in Borneo, but only a few of them fit into the budget of a backpacker or budget traveler. The Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is one of them where I ended up staying 3 nights and 4 days. The initial plan was to stay 2 nights and 3 days, but the experience was so good for me that I ended up staying an extra night. I would have loved to stay more, but I had a flight already booked to Kuala Lumpur. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying here.

1) The lodge is located right in the midst of pristine nature and by the banks of the Kinabatangan river.

2) The place is not too remote, but is remote enough to ensure nothing disturbs you. Since it is elephant territory, the entire lodge perimeter is protected by an electric fence to keep away elephants.

3) The lodge has dormitories (fan cooled), fan cooled small private rooms and air-conditioned large rooms.

4) The reception and folks managing the place do not speak good English, but it is manageable.

5) Food served here borders good to edible. There was nothing special and at the same time, food was not bad either.

6) The worst part about this place is that they do not keep filtered or boiled water. This means that we end up buying more plastic mineral water bottles.

7) The place doesn’t have wi-fi, but who wants wi-fi in the middle of forest.

8) The common toilets for the dormitories are clean and have running cold water. Hot water is only available in the private rooms.

9) There is minimal mosquito trouble in the rooms, but you can find more trouble in the open restaurant area and the reception.

10) The dormitory does not have safety lockers, but the reception provides it.
 
11) The nature guides of this lodge are knowledgeable and know their stuff, but it would be great if showed more commitment and didn’t smoke while on the boat cruise and also didn’t allow other tourists to smoke on the boat.

12) In terms of wildlife and birdlife, this place is right in the middle of it. Whether you go on a boat cruise, a walk around the lodge or a trek in the night, the rich wildlife sighting will excite and amaze you.

13) If you are the sunbathing type, there are a lot of open spaces for you to spread your towel and catch on some sun.

The lodge is great, but for a few minor issues. It is much more than what a budget traveler can expect in the jungle. For USD 21, you get a bed in a dormitory, 3 meals, 2 boat cruises, 1 night trek and 1 day trek. What else can you ask for?

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Travel causes pollution

As strange as this may sound to you, travel does cause pollution. And since I am a traveler too, I am also a contributor to this global pollution phenomenon. The idea behind this post is to make all travelers cognizant of the pollution that they are causing and work towards offsetting or reducing some of these pollutants while we travel across the world. The below headers explain my thought process in detail. Would be great if we all did our bit in reducing the pollution as we cannot reduce travel for sure Smile

Flying, Trains, Buses, Ferries, Cars, Motorcycles
Getting from point A to point B is an important aspect of travel and hence we all fly, take the train/bus/boat or hire a car/motorcycle. But, this causes significant air pollution. I am not saying that we should all go back to prehistoric era and commute by foot or bicycle, but we should try our level best to offset some of the carbon emissions we leave behind in the atmosphere. I have decided to plant a sapling/contribute to plant a sapling every day of the year. What can you do to offset your carbon emissions?

Plastic Water Bottles and other Plastic Waste
I think the biggest consumer of the mineral water industry is us travelers. It is true that we need safe water to drink and the only water we can trust in alien countries is bottled water. We also do the right things by disposing of our plastic trash effectively in garbage bins. But, here’s my train of thought. When you dispose of your plastic trash in trash bins in hotels or in the city, you think that they will be recycled as effectively as it happens in the developed countries. But, the truth of the matter is most of the developing world and especially the poorer countries that travelers go to, do not have a recycling mechanism. Most of them simply burn it (air pollution), bury it (land pollution) or throw it in their rivers (water pollution).

This irks me and that is why I try to reuse my bottles as much as possible and drink filtered or boiled water. A lot of travelers I meet on the way say they do not care. I say we should care or else the future generation of travelers will not see the beautiful world that we saw once. Re use water bottles as much as possible. Even better, carry your own high quality and safe water bottle. Refill filtered water wherever available.

As travelers, we buy a lot of stuff, be it food, clothes or gift items. Most of them are wrapped in plastic bags. Try as much as possible to avoid taking these plastic bags. I don’t take such plastic bags at all. I ask for cloth or paper bags instead. Sometimes, I pay more to buy myself a cloth bag. This is my way of avoiding plastic pollution. What is your way?

Toilet Paper and Napkins
I know that this is a touchy subject, but would like to bring it up nonetheless. We all know that toilet paper and napkins leads to lesser trees, but the point that I am trying to make here is that in most of the developing world, the sanitary system is not built to handle toilet paper and this ends up clogging up the system. And when it is disposed outside it leads to diseases or air pollution when it is burnt. Using water is eco-friendly.

Cigarette Smoking
Most of the smokers who travel do not carry a traveler’s ashtray with them. I don’t know why someone doesn’t design one and tap this market. During my days of travel, I have seen countless tourists throw cigarette buds on the beach, into rivers and into the ocean. This problem can be eliminated if smokers instead use vaporizers. It does not only keep the surroundings clean, it also lessens the concern on air pollution.

And this is in addition to causing inconvenience to non-smokers. Now, these are educated people who say that the country allows smoking anywhere and that’s why they smoke anywhere and secondly, there is no trash disposal system, so they throw it into the open. Well, I don’t think educated people should be talking like that.

Take this as an example, I am inside a wildlife sanctuary and going on a boat cruise. A couple light a cigarette before the boat starts and end up bringing it onboard onto the boat. When I asked them if they were carrying an ashtray, they said ‘No’ and said that their guide said they could smoke and hence they are smoking. The guide is uneducated and poor and since there is no wildlife authority preventing people from smoking, he let them smoke. But, don’t educated people know that smoking is harmful to the environment, especially inside a wildlife sanctuary. One, it can start a forest fire. Animals find cigarette smoke to be an irritant and third, we don’t want a cigarette bud ending up in the belly of a fish. Use your brains while smoking! Smoke the same way the way you would back in your developed world – by following rules and by caring for other people around you.

Sunscreen, Insect Repellants, Deodorant
A lot of us forget that new age wonder cosmetics like sunscreen, insect repellants, deodorants and moisturizer contain a lot of chemicals. It is fine as long as the chemicals stay on your body, but when you jump into the ocean or the river for a swim, you transfer the chemicals into the water body, which in turn cause problems for the marine life. Either wear cosmetics which are water proof, have no chemicals or scrub it off you before you enter a water body. Personally, I don’t use most of these stuff, but when and if I do, I take care not to transfer them into the water.

Sudden Growth and Unhygienic Living This is something that is not within our control, but we as travelers have led to a sudden growth in some places across the world. Hotels, shops, restaurants, travel agencies, vehicles, hawkers and more have sprung up to cater to this demand. The demand is so sudden that safety and hygiene take a back seat. Sometimes, I try and educate people about hygiene and safety. Can you do something too to help such places become better?

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40 Random things about Indonesia

I was there for close to 50 days in Indonesia across Java (Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Malang, Banyuwangi and Surabaya), Bali (Kuta, Nusa Dua, Tanjung Benoa and Ubud) and Sulawesi (Makassar and Tana Toraja). During this time, I met a variety of people, got to understand a lot of the Indonesian lifestyle and came across many interesting things about Indonesian life. I have noted all of these below to make an interesting read.

1) Most of the development in Indonesia has taken place in the Java island. The rest of the island is relatively backward.

2) The bulk of Indonesia consists of Muslim people, but if you go to Bali, you will see Hindus and if you go far east, you will find a lot of Christians.

3) A liter of gasoline costs less than half a dollar in Indonesia.

4) It takes 6 hours or more to fly from the western to the eastern end of Indonesia.

5) Everyone in Indonesia loves Shahrukh Khan and watches Bollywood movies.

6) Death is celebrated more than life in Sulawesi’s Tana Toraja.

7) Bahasa Indonesia, the national language has many words from Hindi, Sanskrit and Tamil.

8) Bahasa Indonesia is the national language and most of the people speak it. However, every island or area has its own language that is used frequently too.

9) The volcanoes in Indonesia might outnumber the mountains.

10) Downtown Kuta in Bali feels more like an American city with its American brands.

11) The peaks of the volcanoes in equatorial Indonesia drop close to freezing in the early morning hours.

12) Jakarta is a huge metropolis with huge traffic snarls, but still has an easy going charm associated to it.

13) Air Asia Indonesia’s domestic flights are more expensive than Air Asia’s international flights.

14) Bankrupt airlines whose planes crash often still end up flying.

15) Indonesian waters are some of the best in the world for surfing.

16) Houses in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi resemble inverted boats.

17) Indonesia is slightly more expensive than the rest of South East Asia (with the exception of Singapore).

18) Only Java in Indonesia has a train system for public transport.

19) There are mountains of gold in Papua.

20) Java island is very rich in Oil and natural gases.

21) There is a substantial departure tax while flying from all Indonesian airports. The international departure tax is a bit more.

22) Train tickets in Java can be booked at your nearest super marts.

23) College students do drag races on their motorbikes every night at Jogja.

24) Indonesian girls love to get their pictures taken with a foreigner.

25) Indonesia has a lot of delicious food options for the vegetarian.

26) A non-Indonesian cannot apply for a Malaysian tourist visa from Indonesia.

27) Alcohol is very expensive in Indonesia.

28) Even though Indonesia is mostly Islam, beer can be found easily in its super markets as Indonesians believe that beer is not against Islam.

29) Indonesian men love to smoke cigarettes. It will be hard to see a man who doesn’t smoke.

30) Gudag Garam, the clove and cinnamon cigarettes are very popular in Indonesia.

31) The Hindu temples of Bali look like multi-tiered umbrellas.

32) The street names in Bali sound straight out of Mahabharata and Ramayana, the two popular epics of India.

33) The world’s most acidic lake is in Indonesia.

34) Indonesia is synonymous with Batiks. Every city and island has its own batik designs. It is one of Indonesia’s main culture icons.

35) Indonesian people who are not from Java have animosity towards the government for directing all development only to Java.

36) Sometimes the flight tickets in Java are cheaper than the train tickets to the same destination.

37) Bahasa Indonesia is one of the simplest languages to learn.

38) In Sulawesi’s Tana Toraja, people keep their dead for many years in their house and treat them as one would treat sick people.

39) The Hindus of Bali are not the same as those from India. They follow Hinduism with some animism and traditions, which makes it unique and that is why it is called Balinese Hinduism.

40) There are many places in Indonesia that see all 4 seasons in a single day.

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Borneo Sandakan Backpackers: A New Comfortable Hostel in Sandakan, Borneo

Sandakan is an important location in Borneo as it is the gateway to the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok, the Proboscis Monkey sanctuary at Labuk bay, the wildlife cruises on the Kinabatangan river, the rainforests of Danum valley and the volcanic islands off Semporna. And it also has a domestic airport, which means that lots of tourists visit this town. Because of this demand, there are many kinds of hostels and hotels doing business in Sandakan. During my recent stay at Sandakan, I stayed at a newly setup hostel called the Borneo Sandakan Backpackers. The below review is based on my experience of staying 2 nights and 2 days here.

1) For 22 RM, one gets a bed in an air-conditioned dormitory. These dormitories are brand new, have fans and exhaust fans too. Apart from dormitories, the hostel have private rooms too.

2) This is one of those hostels that is not cramped and has ample space in everything, be its rooms, bathrooms, toilets, common area and reception.

3) The place comes with free wi-fi, which is pretty fast and reliable.

4) Free breakfast is served every morning from 7 AM to 10 AM. This includes toast, butter, jam, peanut butter and coffee/tea.

5) The hostel is located next to the harbour and is close to important places like the bus station, pharmacy stores, super markets, restaurants and shopping stores.

6) The hostel runs its own tour company too and they offer great deals for the backpacker.

7) The only problem with this hostel is that they do not have safety lockers. This makes you worry about your valuables always and not be in peace.

8) The reception is very resourceful in providing you maps and guiding you in the right direction.

This hostel is ideal for backpackers and budget travelers. Since it is new, it is very clean. Hopefully, it stays that way.

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