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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Benjarong Ceramics: Perfect Thailand Gifts

Intricate looking tea sets, gorgeous coffee mugs, soup bowls, plates, cutlery and much more…If you find yourself ogling such colorful cutlery in Thailand, you are bound to be looking at the the beautiful Benjarong Ceramics. These handmade ceramics painted with artistic and serene looking designs were once reserved for royalty. Soon after, they became sought after gift items in the high strata of society. Even today, it is a luxury item and hence makes for precious gifts.

Intricate Benjarong Painting being made on a tea cup at Benjarong village, Thailand

Benjarong, which literally means ‘five colors’ is a traditional Thai painted porcelain. It however originates in China where it dates back to the Ming dynasty of the 14th century. And it came to Thailand when a princess from China got married into the Siam kingdom and brought the Benjarong porcelain as dowry. Today, careful and skilful Thai artists practise this ancient art and created products using a myriad of colors and sometimes even gold. Each such product of theirs is considered unique and is a masterpiece.

Exquisite Benjarong Crockery of Thailand

While Benjarong shopping makes for great retail therapy, it is an even richer experience to actually see this ancient art unfold in front of your own eyes. On my recent trip to Thailand, I got to experience precisely that.

Benjarong bowl being made at Ban Amphawa, Thailand

In a small village near Baan Amphawa, there lies a group of Thai artisans who have retained the ancient knowledge of Benjarong Porcelains and who survive on this special art to make their livelihood. They take special orders for royalty from across the globe, they create unique pieces for shops Benjarong shops across Thailand and finally, they keep some products in their village for visitors to buy. And the best part is that we as visitors to Thailand can meet them and see their agile, nimble and skilful hands at work.

Beautiful Benjarong crockery being designed near Ban Amphawa, Thailand

In case you are interested in the process…They start with  a bone china (clean white porcelain) raw product. They begin with drawing circular guide lines on a turning wheel. Then, the master craftsman makes the initial pattern drawing. This is like the foundation to the Benjarong painting. Then, skilful women fill in the colors and make small intricate patterns inside. A variety of tools are used for measurements, drawing, coloring and more. In fact, the work is so good that if you keep staring at it for a long while, you will slowly drift into Benjarong dream land. Once the colors have been added, they add liquid gold to the designs. This Thai style was developed in the early 19th century. Finally, they fire the painted product in the kiln for a defined time period. This firing ensures that the colors last a lifetime.

Gorgeous Benjarong Plate - a gift is given by the Thailand king to the heads of state from many countries

I didn’t get to see the actual firing process, but I did get to see and touch the final work products. And boy, did they look sensational! The colors look brighter in the finished product than when the actual painting is done. They artisans informed me that the Benajorong porcelain is resistant to fading, scratching and any kind of degeneration for a very long time.

Benjarong painted crockery from Thailand

They might not be dishwasher or microwave friendly, but if used well, they can definitely add a lot of glamour to your coffee and dining tables. And what’s even better is that they make for unbelievably great gifts. May be, you should check them out as potential gifting options this holiday season. And you should definitey see this ancient art form unfold in front of your very eyes the next time you visit Thailand. This Benjarong village is just a 2 hour drive from Bangkok city!

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Sampran Riverside: Offbeat Authentic Thai Experience near Bangkok

A place that is preferred by the locals is one of those places that I check out as a traveler. Some of these places end up offering me some of my best travel experiences. Now, let’s take Nakhon Pathom as an example. How many of us knew this place as an authentic tourist destination in Thailand? Frankly, I hadn’t even heard of this place and I have spent significant time traveling in Thailand on my many trips there. But, this place is a rage with the locals. They connect with the Authentic Thai experience here and absolutely love its food, aura and rich countryside experience.

Sampran Riverside - Countryside experience in Thailand with organic food

At 2 hours away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok is this place called Sampran Riverside. Located by the Tha Chin river and on the periphery of Nakhon Pathom town, this place offers a true and traditional Thai experience to the traveler. What was once a rose garden is today a sprawling 70 acre 4 star riverside property that offers unique attributes such as organic farming, antique Thai houses and one that engages with the local community at a grass root level.

Traditional cloth weaving technique of Thailand

This allows the visitors to engage in the Thai traditions through traditional lip smacking cooking classes, Thai wellness, Thai village shows, farmers market and cultural exchanges while relishing their Thai countryside holiday experience. Whether you are a kid, a young couple or family with elderly people, you are bound to find an activity or even many activities that will capture your interest.

Traditional colorful umbrellas from the northern part of Thailand

I was there recently and experienced their river cruises, their organic farming, their traditional art museum, Thai village shows, their spa and so much more. My favorite was the mind blowing riverside location surrounded by all greenery. The organic food and the overall experience was simply a bonus for me.

Vegetable cutting - an art form at Sampran Riverside, Thailand

If you are looking for an authentic Thai village experience near Bangkok while you don’t want to miss out on new age comforts, Sampran Riverside, at 2 hours from Bangkok makes for a great choice.  Don’t go there if you are looking to party. But, do go there, if you want an authentic Thai holiday surrounded by lush greenery while you indulge in great food.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Deccan Herald carries out my Maldives Article - A Whirlwind Romance

Merry Christmas to all you lovely people out there! May this festive season bring lots of joy and happiness to you and your family!

This is one of the gifts that Santa left me…An article of mine got published in Deccan Herald today. This article titled ‘A Whirlwind Romance’, which talks about my recent love affair with Maldives got published in today’s Metrolife supplement of Deccan Herald.

MyWhirlwind Romance - Maldives article in Deccan Heralad

Did you get to see it already? If not, you can read it in the snapshot of the article cut out or an online version of the article on Deccan Herald website. In case neither works for you, you can look up this full size and high resolution PDF. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it encourages you to visit a dream holiday destination like ‘Maldives’ either as a romantic holiday or as a fun-filled adventure holiday with your family and friends.

Merry Christmas once more! Cheers!

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Club Med Kani: All Inclusive Gem in the Maldives

Maldives! When we hear or think of this name, we visualize an island paradise with turquoise waters, silver sands, over water lagoon suites and swaying palms. And definitely lots of umbrella drinks. But, most of us Indians categorize Maldives as a dream holiday and keep it explicitly as a honeymoon destination. Well, the place certainly deserves a ‘dream destination’ status and it offers all the romantic ingredients for a honeymoon. May be, we do that because most of the hotels we know of in Maldives are uber luxury or premium places that cost a substantial amount. To be honest with you all, even I had that precise idea before I arrived in Maldives.

A classical Maldives photo - gem in the Indian Ocean

This was my first trip to Maldives. I was invited by Club Med, a French hospitality group that has premium and luxury properties all over the world. Club Med focuses on two kinds of holidays: beach and ski. In fact, all their properties are located either on islands/coasts or in snow laden mountains.

Spectacular Maldives Sunset

I don’t know how many of you have heard of the brand name ‘Club Med’ before! I certainly had not and when I checked with my friends in India, they didn’t seem to know of this brand too. The only people who seemed to know and rave about this brand were my friends from France. And Club Med is a brand that stands for all inclusive holidays. In fact, that is their strongest selling point. And if you know me and my style of travel, you will know that ‘All Inclusive Holidays’ and me are like poles apart. Hence, with confused expectations, I arrived at Maldives for the first time in my life. And oh boy! What I saw and experienced over the next 4 days blew every inch of my mind.

The famous overwater suites of Maldives at Club Med Kani

Blown Away by Club Med Kani

Right from the price point, location and to the overall experience, I cannot do anything but rave about this place. And I am not saying this because Club Med bore the costs of my trip, but because, they are a hidden gem and one that the Indian holidaymakers should wake up to!



Pristine and Heavenly Location
Let’s talk about the location. I stayed at an island called Club Med Kani. It is a small (very walkable) and narrow island surrounded by turquoise waters all around. To one side it has coral reefs and to the other side, it has a lagoon. The water is gorgeously warm and filled with rich marine life. I saw baby sharks, sea cucumbers and sting rays like 5 to 10 feet away from the beach. I was not on any scuba diving or snorkelling trip. In fact, I was just relaxing in the waters near by my beach villa. And this place is just 25 minutes away by speed boat from the Male airport, which means that in 3 hours, I found myself transported from the traffic and chaos of Bangalore to a paradise land in the Indian Ocean.

Lagoon Suites at Club Med Kani, Maldives

Club Med felt like Family

This is something that I normally associate with home stays and not with premium and luxury hospitality groups. I am referring to ‘Personal Connections’. Right from the time I arrived at the island, I felt like someone was always there to take care of me. Never once did I feel like I was lost or I didn’t know what to do. The Club Med team gave me island walkthroughs, they talked me through the features of the rooms, they helped me with directions, made me participate in all fun activities like pool parties, foam parties, beach volleyball, evening culture shows, after dinner parties, daily water sport activities and much more. The people of Club Med were totally clued in and I liked it a lot, especially their smiling faces and high energy personality. When I was bound home after 4 days of staying in Club Med, I not only missed the place, but also missed the people. Such was my personal connection with the people here. I had a blast with them.

Room with a view - Overwater suites - Club Med Finolu, Maldives

The All Inclusive Concept

Now, this is an alien concept for me and one that I stay away from as it curbs my independent travel style. However, after experiencing it first hand at Club Med Kani, I feel that it is not bad. In fact, it is perfect for holidayers on a short vacation and who would like everything well laid out so that they can simply relax and enjoy their holiday. And, in an expensive destination such as Maldives, this all inclusive concept gives you a precise and accurate idea of your expenses. Once I returned from my Maldives trip, I actually did a comparison with other hotel groups and found out that the all inclusive package at Club Med Kani gave me a significant cost advantage.

Private swimming pools at Club Med Finolu Beach Villas, Maldives

In this all inclusive package, everything except airport pick up and drop, spa sessions, scuba diving, scenic plane rides, personal shopping and tips are covered. It includes your stay, all meals and at all kinds of times, a never ending supply of alcohol, water activities like sailing, kayaking, snorkelling and glass boat rides, access to the swimming pool and the pool and foam parties that it comes with, evening culture shows, after dinner parties with full on DJ action, all kinds of games like skittles, beach volleyball, table tennis and even access to the gym, in-house doctors and nurses and so much more.

In simple words, this transparent model helps you visualize your holiday action together with your bill in a very lucid manner.

Pool party at Kani, Maldives

Beach Villas and Over Water Lagoon Suites

Club Med has 2 properties in Maldives. One of them is Club Med Kani, their premium property and the other one is Club Med Finolu, their luxury property. Both these properties are located 5 minutes away by speed boat. While I stayed at a beach villa in Club Med Kani, I got to see all the accommodation options on both Kani and Finolu.

Gorgeous room at Club Med Finolu, Maldives

Both these properties offer accommodation in terms of beach villas and over water lagoon suites. While Club Med Kani is more of a party island with lots of action, Club Med Finolu offers more exclusivity, privacy and luxury. Kani is ideal for all kinds of travelers, especially families with kids. Finolu offers a perfect romantic holiday setting. Kani is definitely cheaper than Finolu and if you want to be around people, get drunk and dance at midnight parties, Kani is the place for you.

Value for Money
When it comes to a luxury destination like Maldives, it is always prudent to get a good idea of the budget. Coz, if you don’t plan it out well, you will be at the receiving end of a huge credit card bill when you reach home. Which is why I like the financial clarity and transparency offered by ClubMed while planning holiday packages at either Kani or Finolu islands. With such clarity, you precisely know what you will get for the price you pay.

Super fun atmosphere at the sunset bar, Club Med Kani, Maldives

I stayed for 3 nights and 4 days at Club Med Kani in Maldives. In the last week of November and the first week of December (when I went to Maldives), the price for such an all inclusive holiday package was USD 850 or about 66,000 Indian Rupees per person. Right now, as it is the Christmas and New Year season, I am sure the prices would be substantially higher and in all probability, they might be sold out as they are such an awesome property. I think the price will come back to the USD 850 per person range around the mid of February. And if you look at their website today, you will see a early bird summer offer for USD 509 per person for the same 3 nights and 4 days Maldivian holiday experience. This according to me is total value for money. Having experienced their facilities first hand and having seen the heavenly location, I know what I mean when I say that. And I hope you do too!

Dynamic scenes from the Indian Ocean - Club Med Kani Island, Maldives

I want to return to Club Med Kani for my next Maldivian Holiday

I recommend Club Med Kani with many thumbs up. Whether you are going with your family, with your kids or on your honeymoon, this place offers the secret sauce of luxury, heavenly location, great family like service and total value for money. Which is why, I call them an all inclusive gem in the Maldives!

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Interview about Road Trips on Byond Travel

Are you a road tripper? Do you love road trips? Or are you one who is interested in road trips, but has never got about to giving it a try? Well, in any case, you might be interested in reading this interview by 6 road trippers, their preferred styles, handy tips based on personal experiences and what defines road trips for them. Titled ‘Life on the Road’, Byond Travel, a popular travel site, interviewed 6 road trippers from different facets of life  (solo male - me, 2 male friends – Tushar and Sanjay, solo female biker -  Chithra Priya and 2 female friends – Renuka and Rahat) and asked them 6 questions.

Interview on Road Trips

These 6 questions are:

1) Why do you choose to travel by road and not other modes?

2) What’s the most challenging road trip you’ve done?

3) What is the best thing you’ve discovered along the way on your road travels?

4) What tips do you have for peoplewho’ve never done a road trip?

5) How would you describe your ideal road trip partner?

6) What’s your favorite/essential song to listen to on the road?

If these questions sound interesting to you, read the answers given by these 6 road trippers in the full interview and plan your next road trip. Happy Road Tripping!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

London Underground: Interesting Travelling Facts

In large cities, I love taking the public transport. In fact, that is my preferred mode of travel during my trips as it helps me get a good feel of the way the locals live their day-to-day life while I save on the stupidly expensive cab fare. From rush hour traffic to the weekends, public transport is always buzzing with all kinds of action for the holidaying traveler. Whether you are in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Singapore or Istanbul, taking the public transport is one of the top ways to explore the city. 

London Underground - Infographic and Cool Traveling Facts

If you are the public transport type and if you are planning a trip to London or if you plan to re-locate there, you will be interested in this infographic created by The London Pass. It shares some cool facts about the oldest underground rail system on Earth.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Risky Market of Thailand: You’ve got to see it!

Risky Market! We normally do not associate the word ‘risky’ with a market, but this market is called ‘Risky’ because it is located on top of a fully functional railway track where trains ply regularly. Sounds dangerous right? Set up with makeshift stools, tents, umbrellas and sticks, this local market gets 3 minutes advance notice to clear the track for passing of a passenger train. 8 such passenger trains have been crossing this market for the last 30 years.

Step into the risky market at Mae Klong, Thailand

A simple local market and one that is popular with the locals for fresh produce at bargain prices, the risky market is perfect for those who love the sight and smell of local markets. Everything from fish, frogs, vegetables, spices, tofu, basic desserts, fresh knick knacks, seafood, mushrooms, fruits, flowers and even unusual items like snake-headed fish can be found here. There are even small restaurants where you can grab a soup, a satay stick or even a small meal. 

Risky market of Thailand

Perfect for shoppers, the risky market is also a super experience for the regular tourists to Thailand. It is not often that you see a 300 meter long fresh produce market disappearing in a matter of 3 minutes to allow a train to pass through and then setting itself back up in record time after the train has passed. 

Mae Klong Railway Market also known as the Risky Market of Thailand

This risky market is located on either side of the railway track at MaeKlong station in the Samutsongkram province of Thailand.  Situated at about an hour from Bangkok city, this market is also referred to as the MaeKlong railway market. If you wish for an actual risky experience with a train passing, do check with locals on the exact passing times of the trains. 

Looking at the Mae Klong Railway Market, Thailand

If shopping and soaking up the local culture is on your agenda, do carry cash and ensure that you don’t block the narrow path in between the shops. You do not want to get a local angry...Do you? And beware of pickpockets!

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Maldives Visa for Indians

Maldives is synonymous with honeymoons all over the world. In fact, things are not any different in India, where this Indian Ocean paradise is a hot favorite with both families and couples. It’s close proximity to India also adds to its popularity quotient. Last week, I visited this tropical paradise. In addition to its natural beauty and close proximity, the free visa of arrival offered to us Indians is also a game-changer. If you hold an Indian Passport, such visa free countries are a blessing in disguise.

Picturesque Maldives Holidays

If you are planning a holiday to Maldives, all you need to show for your free visa on arrival is a return ticket within 90 days and confirmed hotel booking for that duration. In case, you don’t have any hotel booking, they ask you to show funds worth USD 100 per day of your stay in Maldives. This free visa on arrival is valid for 90 days from the day of arrival. It is limited to tourism only, which means that Employment is prohibited under this visa.

The stamping takes place at the airport. A valid passport with 2 blank pages, a return flight ticket and a confirmed booking for accommodation or funds to handle your stay are required to be eligible for this free passport. When I arrived at the Male airport, the only question that the immigration officer asked me was the duration of my stay and lo and behold he stamped my passport. It was as easy as that. And after that, I had the most blissful tropical beach holiday, which I will be talking in more detail in my upcoming posts. 

Maldives Visa for Indians

If you are planning a holiday to this tropical island paradise this winter, all you need to do is book your air tickets and hotel bookings and not worry about the visa. It couldn’t be better for us Indians to enjoy our island neighbours in the Indian Ocean.

While this article is primarily targeted for people looking for a tourist visa, those looking for work permits, business visas and jobs in Maldives can look up the Search Jobs Abroad website.

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Luxury Stay In Delhi That Promises World Class Amenities

Luxury hotels make a stay in Delhi, whether it is for business, vacation, or a wedding, memorable and comfortable. They do this by providing amenities that other hotels don’t offer with the best quality available for guests. Here are some of the amenities you can expect from luxury hotels in Delhi like The Imperial:

1. Room Amenities

An article on Gallup.com reveals that all hotel guests, whether luxury or budget travellers, put the room at the top of their list of priorities when choosing a hotel. Luxury hotels differ from brand name, budget, or business hotels where it is common for each room to use the same floor plan and have the same amenities.

Luxury hotels usually have each room specially decorated for a unique appearance and depending on price, will offer different amenities. The Luxury suite at The Imperial, which is listed as one of the best luxury rooms in Delhi, has a Jacuzzi and DVD player and a control panel for the climate, security, and lights. The Royal Suite, generally, has the additional amenities of a sauna, dressing room, dining room for up to eight guests, and a study with 80 books and antique furniture and artwork.

The hotel offers complimentary amenities in all rooms so that each guest still gets the luxury treatment. As well as a marble bathtub and flat screen TV in each room, there is mineral water, a fresh fruit platter, a shoe shine, dental kit, and a daily newspaper among others. Amenities such as a DVD player or high speed internet come as standard in some luxury rooms but in others they are available only on request or for an additional fee. Still much better than the standard tea and coffee offered by other hotels!

2.
Dining

When guests venture outside of their rooms, there are many more amenities available for them. First is the all-important restaurant and bar. Even in a budget hotel this will be an important inclusion but in a luxury hotel, guests expect the dining to be at an equally high standard to the rooms and service.

All luxury hotels have at least one restaurant and bar. The Imperial has three of each plus a patisserie and an afternoon tea room, each one representing a different period of India’s history. For instance, The Spice Route is decorated with antiques from across South East Asia while The Nostalgia Room gives the impression of returning to the mid-20th century with live jazz music and images of Elvis Presley on the walls. It is these small but detailed touches that give Delhi’s hotels the air of luxury.

3.
Additional Amenities

Finally, there are the additional amenities which make a difference for guests who need them. You can expect most luxury hotels to have a full service spa and salon, a gym (sometimes including personal trainers), an airport shuttle, and facilities for business conferences, all of which are treated with the same standards of luxury and professionalism as the rest of the hotel. Of course, every hotel will have at least one pool, hopefully surrounded by palm trees with a bar included. Some hotels will have a separate pool for children to play so that adults can relax in peace.

But the hallmark of a luxury hotel is providing amenities that don’t come as standard to set themselves apart from other hotels. They may not be essential but they are a nice addition for guests who need them. The Imperial, for example, has not only a fitness centre but a yoga studio and the expansive gardens make a perfect place for meditation. Guests don’t even need to travel far for shopping as luxury hotels also comprise boutiques and bookshops.

Even the hotel itself could be considered an amenity just by how unique it is. A study by hotel consultants HVS reveal that experiences rather than amenities are becoming more important for tourists and a visit to such hotels is an experience in itself. Everywhere you look in the hotel, from the guest rooms to the public areas, there are antiques, paintings, and other special touches which make you just want to wander around for hours like you would do in an art gallery. One visitor on the review website TripAdvisor said that it was ‘Like travelling back in time’ and other reviews on the website, and across the internet, seem to agree. A trip to the hotel, even just for afternoon tea, becomes part of the visit to Delhi in itself as it forms a part of the city’s history.

Luxury travel means not only the standard amenities such as a mini bar or pool but a hotel which makes every moment of a guest’s stay unique with everything provided for them. It means care and attention to detail, going above and beyond to provide for guests and hotels.

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