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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Beautiful Sur Panorama

Sur in eastern Oman is one of the more scenic cities I have ever visited around the world. It’s white and beige buildings, its turquoise waters, its lovely long coast line, it’s vantage points, its simple yet beautiful mosques, its well laid out roads and lanes, its friendly denizens and its world famous dhow building industry make for great exploration.


I was there last week and could only spend a day there. It was only with a heavy heart that I left this beautiful town, but only after promising myself that I will spend a lot of time in this sensationally beautiful town. If you get a chance to visit this iconic town, do remember to check out its stunning views from its vantage points.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Largest Cluster of Temples that I have seen

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

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

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bangkok: Venice of the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Invited by Oman Tourism

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

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

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

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

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15 Simple Tips to Stay Healthy while Traveling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Travel Photo: Wooden Buddha Statues from Luang Prabang

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

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

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coast of bliss: Pearls of the Andaman Sea

Some of the clearest and bluest water in the world can be found in the Andaman Sea. It’s no surprise then, that the Andaman coast has some of the best beaches in the world. From Indonesia to Malaysia to Bangladesh to Thailand, each country has its own little pearl of a coastal city along the way. For those thinking about a holiday in the sun, here are some of the most beautiful spots you’ll find along the way.

Khao Lak Beach, Thailand

Khao Lak, Thailand
A Khao Lak holiday offers the best of all worlds. For the relaxation seekers, there are the long stretches of beaches and warm waves that let the stress fade away. For the adventure seekers, there is some of the best diving in the world, with a gentle sea and rainbow colored coral for explorers. There are also mountains to hike and exotic animals to see at the national parks, all with the north Andaman Sea as a backdrop. Plus, it’s a far cry from the bustle of nearby Phuket’s bigger resort towns.

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

Sunset from Pulau Langkawi, Thailand

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

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

Diving at Similan Islands 

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

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

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Travel Photo: Beautiful San Agustin Church from Intramuros, Manila

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

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

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 14 Android Travel Apps for the Indian Traveler

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

Android Travel Apps

Skyscanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Travel Photo: Kawah Ijen’s Sulphuric Crater

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

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

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Travel Photo: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque

Singapore is synonymous with employment opportunities, a successful economy, its fines, its food culture and its man made wonders. But, within all of this, there is a vibrant secular twist to it that you can feel when you explore its different quarters. The two more popular quarters are Chinatown and Little India, but personally, I like the Arab quarter too. The Arab street with the Sultan Mosque, the various Mediterranean restaurants, the Turkish carpets and the Sulaimani tea packs quite a punch.

Sultan's Mosque next to Arab Street, Singapore 
When you step into Little India, you feel like you are stepping into a smaller version of Chennai’s Ranganathan Street. When you step in into Chinatown, you feel like you are in the Mongkok area of Hong Kong. But, the Arab quarter has a mixed feel due to a combination of cultures from everywhere in the Middle East and also from Malaysia and Indonesia. This makes it much more interesting as you can sample a potpourri of cultures in a much smaller area. Check this place out the next time you are in Singapore.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Travel Photo: Penang’s Chinese Connection

Penang is one of Malaysia’s top hot spots. A lot of people visit this island city for its great food and its culture. It has a UNESCO world heritage site in Georgetown and has an interesting potpourri of cultures in Hinduism (Little India), Buddhism (Chinatown) and Islam (rest of Penang). This secular environment allows the tourist to sample different cultures, religions, foods and architecture in a very short radius.

At a Chinese temple in Georgetown, Malaysia
It was one such exploration when I came across this very colorful Chinese Buddhist temple within the UNESCO World Heritage site area. My sister and my brother in law are happy models in the background of my photo. Thank you guys! If culture, food and a secular environment is your thing, then head straight to Penang and indulge in the color and smells of Little India, the night markets of Chinatown and the rich markets and architecture of the other part of Malaysia.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Travel Photo: Trishaws of Macau

Macau is associated with money, luxury and gambling. And to a lesser extent, its rich Portuguese culture. However, within all of this and something that you don’t normally associate with a casino destination are the Trishaws of Macau. This archaic mode of transport can be seen standing in front of the casinos and five star hotels in resplendent yellow colours.

The Tricyclos of Macau
Each of these trishaws have a menu at their disposal that tourists can refer to see which area of Macau they want to explore. To give you an idea of the menu, it has packages to the strip clubs of Macau, the happening night clubs, the busy casinos, the historic sites and much more. These trishaws or tricyclos are ideal for those who wish to explore this vibrant city at leisure and then step into the happening nightlife spots of this casino city.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Travel Photo: Yellow Lanterns at Taipei’s Longshan Temple

This is possibly one of the oldest temples in Taipei. It is also a place where you will definitely find the spiritual vibe during the early morning and early evening hours. This is the famous (Mengja) Longshan temple in the Wanhua district of Taipei. This temple worships a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and folk deities like most temples in Taiwan and showcases beautiful Taiwanese classical architecture with southern Chinese influences.

Yellow Lanterns at Longshan Temple, Taipei
And after you have explored your spiritual self, you can listen to your growling stomach and sample one of the many night markets located close to the Longshan temple. Taipei has such a night eating culture that you can keep eating all the way to your bed. But, irrespective of the night markets, if you are in Taipei and have seen the view from the top of Taipei 101, you have to visit this temple to see the fervor with which the locals pray here every day. Personally, I love it here.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Travel Photo: Kuang Xi Waterfall near Luang Prabang, Laos

This place is blessed with a stunning setting. Perfectly green and perfectly tropical. And its best attribute is that it is really close to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang in serene Laos For those who want a break from temples, French colonial setting, shopping and the Mekong river and wish for a rural experience by cycling or motor-biking through the countryside, then the Kuang Xi waterfall at 30 kms away from Luang Prabang provides that ideal avenue.

The lovely Kuang Si Waterfall near Luang Prabang, Laos
The natural swimming pools at the foot of this waterfall are a great way to laze around and cool off in this tropical part of the world. This rugged terrain offers small treks for those willing to sweat it out and once you have sweat it out, you can again go for a dip in this turquoise pool. For families with kids, there is a bear conservation center close by (it is called the Kuang Xi Bear conservation center) that will offer a knowledgeable session about the sun bears of Laos and also makes for great scenes. In my head, it is the perfect day trip from Luang Prabang. Have you explored this place as yet?

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Travel Photo: The Pride of Burma

Burma is famous the world over for its temples and pagodas and the one that truly stands out as the pride of this beautiful country is the Shwedagon Pagoda. This pagoda, also popularly referred to as the golden temple is located right in the heart of Yangon and is the seat of spiritualism in the early hours of the morning and around sunset time. This is the time when the monks chant and all the locals throng to the temple to offer their prayers.

Beautiful architecture of Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma
Everything in this temple is decked in gold. The statues, the carvings, the domes, the insides, the outsides and definitely the large Buddha inside the sanctum sanctorum. Generally, people go for the pagodas as it is massive in size and shines a lot, but for me, I got pulled by the beautiful stepped architecture of these Myanmar temples inside the pagoda campus. The carvings on it just added to the appeal. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Myanmar, don’t miss out visiting this serene and large temple.

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The bohemian beauty of Barcelona

The bohemian spirit of artists past plays a critical role in the cultural makeup of Barcelona. Wherever you venture in this beautiful Catalonian capital, their influence is always present. From the bars of El Born to the monuments of Picasso, Barcelona is a hub of bohemian beauty just waiting to be captured on camera.

A jaunt to the capital city of Spain’s autonomous community Catalonia is always going to provide shutter-happy travellers with an abundance of scenic shots and beautiful locations. From the many buildings of Gaudi to the stunning parks, there is a plethora of picturesque points to shoot from. To pick only three is near impossible, however, if you’re looking to capture the true bohemia of the city, the follow destinations cannot be missed.

There are also a range of cultural tours which combine the bohemian art, history and stories of 1990s Barcelona. If you’d rather be shown such attractions by an experienced guide, companies like Icono Cultural Tours can offer something suitable. If there is a range of tours and attractions you want to see, it is advisable to arrange these before you travel. If that requires transferring money online to international organizations, companies like Travelex can help you do this securely.

The cafés of Gràcia

Gràcia is made up of five neighbourhoods, all which contribute to the district’s stunning and notable squares. Head to either Plaça del Sol, or Plaça de Rius i Taulet and you’ll be able to sit with a coffee and enjoy the stunning setting enjoyed by many of Spain’s free spirits.

The most famous of all of Gràcia’s landmarks however, is Gaudí’s Parc Güell— a garden complex with architectural elements dotted throughout. It is one of the largest architectural works in southern Europe and boasts stunning mosaics, sculptures, and even a house which Gaudi called home from 1906 to 1926. Take a stroll through the footpaths or simply relax in the main terrace; the photographic opportunities are endless!

The alleys of El Raval
El Raval is a historical neighbourhood which borders La Rambla with Barri Gòtic. Situated in the Ciutat Vella district, it has now become a major tourist attraction, however, this in no way should deter you from experiencing the historic alleys and architecture it has become famous for.

While navigating the alleys, capturing thinly-railed balconies and historic doorways, it’s worth visiting several of the landmarks El Raval has. One of the most famous is the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria – an impressive public market that offers a range of goods.

The Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp is a stunning, but rather mysterious monument ideal for capturing. There are no sources which can indicate when the monastery was actually built, although it is believed to have been constructed in the late 9th century. Steeped in a violent history that saw the monks driven from it by several invading armies, its unconventional charm makes it an ideal subject for photographing.

Also worth visiting are the old wall and gate of the medieval city of Portal de Santa Madrona, Fernando Botero’s large feline statue, and Palau Güell.

The Quatre Gats
There are several locations throughout Barcelona which can claim a slice of Picasso fame. From the Llotja School, where he studied, to the many studios in which he worked. However, a trip to the Quatre Gats is a must. The café, which opened in 1897, was said to be the artist’s famed hangout during the early stages of his career.

Modeled on the Parisian café Le Chat Noir, the establishment is a true architectural and bohemian beauty.

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Must-Know Tips for Those New to Ibibo

With the advent of the Internet, everything became easy. It is possible to shop online, watch movies online, buy books online, etc. Frankly, with the Internet, you could do whatever you wanted through a simple computer. However, booking tickets online came as a literal godsend for me and my family.

Booking Tickets: An Indian Family’s Nightmare Before the Internet, the only way to book tickets for flights, buses and trains, was through an agent or an agency. All agencies had long queues. And booking tickets meant planning your vacation six months before your visit to the agency. At the agency, the operators would waffle about looking important and busy, and they generally made you beg for your tickets. Then when you were desperate enough, the agent or agency would deign to give you the tickets you required and for this service, you were obligated to grease the wheels with currency (of course, this was above and beyond the ticket price.) It did not help that flight tickets were astronomically expensive, bus tickets were cheap but unavailable, and train tickets were in another world all together. Almost every Indian family had their favorite agent or agency that they cultivated jealously for their annual summer vacation tickets. The older generation of readers may also remember that once the tickets were in, the entire family celebrated the chance to vacation together (getting the tickets was like a pre-vacation).

With the Internet, Times Have Changed It is now possible to find ‘n’ number of travel websites online that offer online ticket booking for flights, trains and buses. According to website webintravel.com, now almost 25% of the Indian population prefers to book their tickets online bypassing the agency system completely. This has proved to be very lucrative for online booking companies, and websites like Ibibo in particular are hot favorites. BusinessInsider states that millennial, or people born from born between 1980 and 2000, are the main customer bases for these online ticketing websites. Websites like Ibibo, in particular, have a rock-solid reputation for reliability and promptness. Ibibio is famous for its affordable prices as well and the price guarantees that it offers.

How Does It Work? How does Ibibo workOne of the reasons for the popularity of ibibo’s online booking system is that the website is an all-service firm. If you are looking for flight tickets, you will get them. In case flights are unavailable, the next best options in bus and train tickets are offered. This can be combined with hotel bookings in the destination cities through the same webpage and web form. This simplifies the booking process and ensures that a customer gets exactly what they want quickly and efficiently.

The company also offers discounted package deals and ties up with online couponing websites to offer ibibo discount coupons, which are very popular during the summer months or during peak festival times. Other attractive features offered by the website for frequent customers include spot sales, booking with zero cancellation fees, flash sales, price guarantees, etc. Of course, if want to make use of these features, here is what you have to do: 

- Open an account – Signing up with the website is important to get access to deals and promotions offered by the company. Timesofindia states that loyal customers are often mailed new offers to be redeemed online. Make sure you also sign up for the company newsletter to learn about the latest promotional offers and upcoming deals. 

- Search For Tickets – The website has a simple search engine that you can use to book your tickets online. You will have to provide an address proof, name and age details for booking your tickets. Make sure you fill these in correctly, as it is printed on the ticket. Your ticket and will be verified through ID at the time of boarding or embarking your trip and the information should match. 

- Check Deals – The website prompts you to add the coupons and promotional offers to the coupon code box when you are paying for your ticket. Please note that credit and debit cards are the only way to pay online at present. After you’ve entered the coupon code, you will see the new discounted rate, but some websites may charge you a little extra for travel insurance. If you do not want to pay this, tick the indicated box and proceed. Watch out for flash sales as ibibo is now offering a flat Rs 500 off on domestic flights on all airlines and a free flight ticket if you write in to them about your travel experience. If you book through your mobile, the website is offering an additional Rs 350 off. Most of these deals are listed on the home page but they also pop up while you are paying for and confirming your ticket. 

- Print your tickets – The Company mails the tickets directly to your email or mobile instantly.

Of course, with all these features, Techcircle.com states that almost all educated middle-class customers now prefer to book their tickets online. This online booking system has helped to inject a boost into the airline industry as well. As websites can cut out the intermediary, they can afford to provide cheaper ticket rates by soliciting the airline company directly. It’s now a win-win situation for everyone, except the agency and agent who are still sulking.

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