September 2013 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tournesol Boutique Hotel: Comfortable Stay in Aranyaprathet, Thailand

Aranyaprathet is a small town that grew in prominence due to the land border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia that is just a couple of kilometers from this town. A lot of Thai people come here to do bargain shopping in bulk and also cross the border into Cambodia to do some gambling. It is because of this large influx of tourists that a lot of hotels have come up in this town in recent times. I got to stay at one of those hotels when I was here recently on behalf of an invite from the tourism authority of Thailand. I stayed one night at the Tournesol Boutique Hotel and the below review is based on this recent experience of mine.

1) The hotel is brand new and thus it is in prime state with everything smelling new.

2) This boutique hotel, which has a French name, has a French look n feel to it with fountains and French style architectural style.

3) The place is not five star material, but is a very comfortable business/boutique class hotel with ample parking, good levels of service, free breakfast and the usual stuff.

4) They don’t have an in-house restaurant, but they serve free breakfast. Vegetarians might not have a lot of options at the breakfast table, apart from the usual fare.

5) For a remote town, this hotel has blazing fast internet in each of its rooms.

6) The hotel doesn’t have an elevator, but it has a total of 3 floors only.

7) It is a bit away from the heart of town, which in a way is good as you are away from all the border traffic, but you would need your own transport to move around between the market, border and the restaurants.

The Tournesol Boutique hotel is good for those people looking to spend a night or two and then move on to the next destination. It offers a comfortable pit stop between Bangkok and Siem Reap.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spirit Houses of Thailand

Thailand is a land of rich traditions and spirituality. Their deep belief in Theravada Buddhism is one of the main reasons, Thailand is a religious nation. Take their spirit houses for an example. You can see them in front of nearly every building in Thailand. Some of them are ornate, while the others are simple. Some of them are large, but the others are small. But, whatever their shape, size or design, they exist almost everywhere.

Spirit houses of Thailand
Now, you may ask, why do people construct spirit houses in front of every building. The reason is that before someone occupies a piece of lands and builds something on it, they have to build a spirit house for the spirits currently living in that piece of land. By building this spirit house and by giving them offerings, they are apparently taking their permission to build on their land.

Spirit House in front of a Thai Home, Bangkok
This allows the human occupants and the spirits to co-exist happily on the same piece of land. As part of this tradition, one can see a lot of offerings like incense sticks, fruits, rice, flowers and vegetables in front of the spirit houses. These offerings are made on a daily basis and it is believed that it is their duty to take care of their house spirits and in return the spirits will take care of them.

Spirit House outside Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
As far as I have seen, these spirit houses are kept in direct connection with the natural elements, which means they get ample sunshine, moonlight and rain. I have heard some local Thai people mention that it is unlucky for the house to keep the spirit house in the shade, though I am not sure of the reasoning behind it. These spirit houses are a small example of the depth of Thai culture and their Buddhist beliefs, making it a fantastic country for a culture seeking traveler.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Foodies in Lisbon: Top Places to Gnosh

Say what you will, but for millions of tourists each year the highlight of any holiday abroad is experiencing firsthand the cuisine of a different culture. No matter where Britons travel on holiday, they are going to encounter a flavour palette that is drastically different in many respects from the cuisine in the UK. Some Britons might even travel overseas simply to get a taste of something out of the ordinary. Among the top destinations for any UK foodie should be Lisbon, Portugal.

Lisbon is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, and for good reason. Serving as the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon is seventh-most-visited city in Southern Europe and has the distinction of being the oldest capital city in Western Europe ahead of other modern capitals including London, Paris, and Rome.

A visit to Lisbon is about more than spending time on the Atlantic Coast or taking in the historical riches of this ancient city. Lisbon is perhaps one of the best holiday destinations to eat your way through. Portuguese culture and cuisine are famous across the European continent and offer tourists a myriad of options to suit any palette.

Foodies Rejoice What makes the cuisine and culture of Lisbon unique to Portugal is the approach to cooking and dining. Portuguese cuisine is unique from other global cuisine in that cafes and restaurants offer simple meals with fresh ingredients, all of which are cooked with passion and infused with soul. Additionally, while reservations are a necessity at many locations you won’t find a need for them until later in the evening.

Many cafes, bistros, and restaurants are open all day, but few will be packed to the rafters with guests until 21:00 or later in the evening. Dining out in Lisbon is for the masses, and simplicity is the key. With that said, the following are some of the best places to grab a bite in Lisbon:

- Bon Jardim: Starting with the simplest offering, at Bon Jardim in the middle of Lisbon you’ll find a Portuguese favourite on the menu. Crispy piri-piri covered chicken and chips is the meal of choice for many, and leave the utensils at home for this meal. Open daily from noon to 23:30, the average two-course meal runs £15.

- Solar do Nunes: Experience traditional, earthy cuisine from Portugal’s inland regions at Solar do Nunes. The menu includes a variety of meaty stews and fresh fish meals, but the popular pick is ameijoas alentejano (clams in a wine/chili/coriander/garlic sauce with pork). Open Monday through Saturday from noon to 16:00 and 19:00 to midnight, the average two-course meal starts at £30.

- Largo: For those looking to try something new, Largo offers a taste of the new wave in Portuguese cuisine. The must-have dish is the cod marinated in port and soy sauce. Open Monday through Saturday from 20:00 to well after midnight, the average two-course meal starts at £50 and reservations are essential.

- A Travessa: Lisbon’s most popular restaurant will lure you in with the smell of freshly baked bread and keep you with the delicious taste of garlicky moules frites. Open daily from 12:30 to 15:30 and 20:00 to midnight, the average two-course meal starts at £40 and reservations are a must.

Do it all in Luxury Portugal holds plenty of gems aside from its simple yet unique cuisine, and the best way to experience all of that is by visiting Portugal in 5-star luxury, or as they refer to it at Club Med, five-trident. While the dining itself might not be tailored towards fine dining, that doesn’t mean the remainder of the vacation has to be equally simple.

Lisbon and its surrounding metro regions offer some of Europe’s finest luxury accommodations, and the easiest way to take advantage of them is by booking an all-inclusive holiday package at a top resort.

About the author: Alex Norman is now considered one of the locals in Portugal. A retired farmer, he now enjoys blogging about Portugal, and all the places to see there.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Kenya Visa on Arrival for Indians

Kenya is one of those countries where the Indian citizen gets a visa on arrival. The process is fairly straightforward and the following documents are required.

1) Passport with minimum 6 months validity and 2 blank pages
2) Completed visa form available at the immigration desk at the airport
3) Visa fee of USD 50 or GBP 30 or Euro 40
4) Hotel bookings (some times immigration officials are known to ask for it)
5) Return tickets are not asked for, but would be good to have an idea of your next destination and the way you want to travel (overland, air travel, etc)

The visa is valid for a single entry and up to a duration of 90 days. The visa also holds for a re-entry into Kenya from Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda during the 90 day period.

Kenya Visa on arrival

The Indian traveler can also apply for the visa at a Kenyan embassy. The cost and the documentation remain the same. The only additional thing required are 2 passport size photographs with white background.

Note: Remember to get your yellow fever vaccination 15 days before flying into Kenya and carry the yellow fever certificate with you at all times especially if you are going to be traveling to a country that is outside the purview of yellow fever.

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Hong Kong and Macau Visa for Indians

Hong Kong and Macau are two of those countries (special regions) where the Indian passport doesn’t need a visa. It is where you feel like you have a European, American, Australian or Japanese passport as the citizens of the countries walk in into most of the countries around the world without a visa or any documentation. Even though the Indian citizen does not need a visa to enter these two countries, the Indian traveler still needs to be prepared.

Hong Kong and Macau Visa for Indians

Hong Kong

To get into Hong Kong, the Indian traveler needs the following:
1) Passport with minimum 6 months validity and 2 blank pages
2) Return ticket within 14 days out of Hong Kong
3) A business card or a document to show that you are employed or self-employed
4) Hotel bookings for the 1st night (some immigration officials are known to ask for this)
5) An international credit card and some foreign currency

There is free entry. All the Indian passport gets is a stamp saying that you are allowed to stay in Hong Kong for 14 days. As long as you exit Hong Kong within 14 days, the Indian traveler can enter many times in a short duration.

UPDATE: Do note that all Indian travelers to Hong Kong require a Pre Arrival Registration (PAR) slip in order to enter Hong Kong. This does not cost anything, but it is a necessity. This change was made in early 2017.

Macau is a bit easier to get into than Hong Kong as the Indian passport is a bit more respected here. To get into Macau, the Indian traveler needs the following:
1) Passport with minimum 6 months validity and 2 blank pages
2) An international card and some foreign currency

Generally, the immigration officials don’t ask for any other documentation, but it is good to have some answers ready regarding hotel bookings and return journey. There is no charge for entry into Macau for the Indian passport and the traveler gets 30 days in Macau on a single entry. As long as you exit within 30 days, you can enter Macau as many times as possible.

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Cambodia Visa on Arrival for Indians

The last time I had visited Cambodia, I opted to go the e-visa route, but this time around, I had less time to prepare and hence took the visa on arrival route. The visa on arrival is available at all of Cambodia’s international airports and at their important land borders. The following basic stuff needs to be kept ready for a Cambodia visa on arrival:

Cambodia visa on arrival

1) Passport with minimum 6 months validity and a minimum of 2 blank pages
2) 2 passport size photographs with white background
3) Enough foreign currency to support yourself in Cambodia (most of the immigration officials don’t bother about this)
4) Completed and signed visa form (one can get this at the immigration check point)

The visa on arrival cost is USD 20 (the e-visa costs USD 25) and the visa allows you to stay in Cambodia for a duration of 1 month. Only US Dollars in cash are accepted as a mode of payment for the visa.

How to get your Cambodia visa on arrival at the Poipet land crossing?
The Poipet land crossing into Cambodia is the most popular land crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. After getting the exit stamps done at the Thai side, bypass all the Cambodian touts and agents and walk straight to the immigration office after you cross the casinos to your right. At the entrance of this immigration office is the visa on arrival office. Here, collect your form, fill it, submit the necessary documents and the visa fees and get your visa stuck on your passport. Now, collect your passport and visa and stand in the immigration line. The immigration officer will take your photo, scan your finger points and stamp you in for a duration of one month.

Note: Sometimes, especially during the peak holiday season, the queue at the immigration can be very long. Hence, remember to carry some eatables and water with you. Also, keep a watch out for your belongings.

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Foodpanda: Order delicious food to your doorstep!

Order food onlineRecently, I wanted to order some food home and that is how I landed at Foodpanda. It is a very interesting concept and that is why I wanted to share with you all.

Foodpanda, a relatively new, German based venture provides the service of order and delivery of food and beverages. They are an up-and-coming website that works by delivering food and drinks from a wide range of available partner restaurants such as Kebab Xpress, Subway, Pizza Hut, to name a few.

Foodpanda is now present in 11 cities across India, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. and 28 countries worldwide. If one has a busy schedule or the job doesn’t allow enough time to cook or go out to eat, Foodpanda provides the best alternative. All one has to do is go on their website, select the current location and look through the available restaurants in the area. Next, select the restaurant of choice and choose all the dishes and beverages wanted, including toppings and dessert. Further, proceed to check out the order and after entering the delivery details, all one would have to do is await the delivery of their favorite dish by Foodpanda.

Foodpanda website
For people on the move, Foodpanda provides a smartphone app for Android and Apple mobile devices. This app follows a similar procedure as their website, and one can have their favorite dish delivered to the current location hassle free.

Personally, I haven’t used availed their services as yet, but would be happy to try them out at the next opportunity.

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Travel Photo: Sleeping at Angkor Thom

One sees so many innovative and interesting things while traveling and this is one of them. I was inside the Angkor archaeological park and it was mid afternoon time. I was here on an invite from the tourism authority of Thailand and the Ministry of tourism of Cambodia and our group had got a bit delayed due to the rains. But, the clouds cleared up and the sun shone nicely to make it a sticky afternoon. By the time we had finished exploring the beautiful Bayon temple, we were all sticky and tired and I felt like putting up my feet and resting.

Comfortable way to sleep inside the Angkor complex of Siem Reap, Cambodia
It was precisely at that moment that I saw this tuk tuk driver sleeping in his hammock inside his tuk tuk. As much as I wanted to trade places with him, I was enticed by the way he had set up his hammock in the passenger carriage of this tuk tuk. A perfect setup to protect him from the sun and the rains and give much needed rest to these tuk tuk drivers who wake up early (to take their customers for the Angkor Wat sunrise) and stay up late in the night (to take the tourists to the pub street in Siem Reap).

P.S. Such hammocks are real cheap in Siem Reap’s old market and are insanely light and comfortable. I have one of them myself.

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Thailand’s Ban Klong Luek Border Market: Great Border Shopping Experience

The Thai-Cambodia land border at Aranyaprathet is possibly the most popular land border crossing between these two countries. It is a preferred route for backpackers, budget travelers and for those who wish to experience parts of Thailand away from the tourist trail. While, Aranyaprathet, the border city on the Thai side, is an intriguing city in its own right, a lot of tourists give this city a miss and head straight into Cambodia. I too did the same thing the last time I did the overland crossing into Cambodia. But, this time, thanks to the tourist authority of Thailand, I got to explore a bit more of Aranyaprathet and understand its importance as a shopping border town.

A scene at Ban Klong Luek Border Market, Aranyaprathet
While this town rose in importance as a popular land border crossing, its path to fame is its shopping arena and border market. A lot of people from the rest of Thailand come here every morning and more so during the weekends to buy goods in bulk. Popular items of sale are clothes, shoes, bags, household goods, daily usables, food and more. The market is massive and can test the stamina and strength of even the most die hard shopper. While most of the shops sell the same kinds of goods and for the local Thai people, some of them stock on souvenirs for the tourists. Since goods are procured from Cambodia at a wholesale price and due to the heavy competition, the price of the goods works out to be very less and you get a great bargain if you buy in bulk.

Shops at Aranyaprathet's border market, Thailand
Even if you are not buying anything, this border market offers a great insight into a Thai countryside living. The color, the smells and the vibrant atmosphere in this border market will appeal to all kinds of tourists and especially those ones who like to click a lot of pictures. The one thing that you need to watch out here is for the pick pockets. Apart from that, this border market has enough variety in it to keep you enthralled for a full day and the next day you can enter Cambodia.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Luxury Golf & Spa Resort in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

On my road trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap that was part of an invite by the tourism authority of Thailand, I stayed at the green mountainous area of Nakhon Nayok. I was told that Nakhon Nayok was a small town and didn’t have much luxury accommodation like Bangkok, but when I was checked into the Royal Hills Golf Resort and Spa, I was at a loss for words as this was a massive hotel property located amidst lush green forests and a sprawling golf course. I stayed here for one day and one night and the below review is based on this recent experience of mine.

View from Royal Hills Resort, Nakhon Nayok, Thailand
1) This place is perfect for those seeking a relaxed getaway. The lush green terrain, the great spa services, and lots of luxury ensures this place has all the essential ingredients for lots of relaxation.

2) One can indulge in a lot of soft adventure activities, like ziplining, river rafting, rock climbing and ATV rides around this place. This is ideal if you are in a big group or are families with children.

3) At just 3 hours from Bangkok, this resort offers great value for a weekend holiday.

4) If you are into golfing, you will definitely like the course set in the heart of this property. The hills in the backdrop add to the charm of golfing.

5) In terms of accommodation options, the resort has a hotel building of 6 floors facing the lake, some luxury villas and bungalows.

6) The view from the rooms are sensational and I got to see a beautiful sunrise and a misty sunset.

7) Breakfast is grand, but the best part about breakfast is that it overlooks the golf course and one can bath in the morning sunshine and watch the golf proceedings while having their breakfast.

Everything about this place was great. It is ideal for a nature slash relaxing holiday. I would have loved to stay here longer.

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Random Destination Snippets

Somebody once said ‘Travel is about the journey and it is not just the destination’. It is during this very journey that we find something that appeals (either in a positive or negative manner) to our six senses and that is what makes the journey so interesting. It doesn’t matter whether you are taking the beaten path or discovering virgin territories. It doesn’t make a difference whether you are traveling alone, as a couple or as a family with kids, you will have your own story and each of these stories will have their own reasons and situations.

Long Necked Tribal Women of Burma
I have my story too as I travel through each country, city and village. I travel alone and do a bit of both the beaten and the unbeaten path. I travel without a plan and without any kind of guidance. This helps me get closer to the culture and that is how I get the best or the worst reactions.

Souvenir shop in the old quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam
After visiting each country, I end up writing random snippets/thoughts/interpretations/facts from each country. The primary purpose of these articles is to summarize my experience of that country in brief sentences and make for an interesting read. But, you can also read these posts to prepare yourself for a country that you are planning to visit, albeit at a high level. Whatever the case may be, I hope you find the randomness about each destination a great read.

Bhutan Burma aka Myanmar Cambodia Hong Kong
Indonesia Kenya Laos Macau
Malaysia Philippines Singapore Sri Lanka (Colombo Airport)
Taiwan Thailand (Bangkok) Vietnam  

Beautiful Samburu Women: All you need to do is offer the chief of the tribe 2 cows and you can get any of them as your bride :-)
I will add more destination snippets here as I accomplish writing more posts.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bamboo Sticky Rice: Thailand’s Favorite

The Thai cuisine offers a lot of rice based dishes, but if there is one that goes right to the root level, it has to be bamboo sticky rice. This rice dish is made up of locally grown sticky rice and steamed inside young bamboo shoots in a clay oven. Sometimes it has coconut milk in it or grated coconut and sometimes it has red or black bean, which makes it a very nutritious dish in its own right with a balance of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins.

Famous Bamboo Sticky Rice of Thailand
Be it the countryside or a city street stall, you will find this dish everywhere. And you will find it at all times of the day, which means you can either have it as a snack or like a full meal. As a vegetarian, I used to gorge on these. So if you are a vegetarian and struggling to find healthy vegetarian food, watch out for the hawkers selling hot bamboo sticky rice. A whole bundle might be as low as 10 baht. If you have a drink to go along with it, it will fill up an empty stomach.

Clay Oven to cook the Bamboo Sticky Rice
Remember to try out this native Thai dish the next time you are in Thailand. It has a subtle and mellow flavor and thus will suit all palates and tastes. It is steamed and thus very safe to eat. Do not miss tasting Thailand’s favorite rice dish!!

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Dusit Thani Bangkok: Luxury Hotel in the heart of the capital

As most of you know, I was recently invited on a media trip to Thailand by the tourism authority of Thailand. During this media trip and during my stay at Bangkok, I was put up at the Dusit Thani Bangkok, a luxury hotel in the Silom area of Bangkok. I stayed here for 2 days and 2 nights and the below review is based on my recent experience.

1) The best thing about this place is that it is right in the heart of Bangkok’s downtown. Lumphini Park, Silom, Sukhumvit, the shopping mall belt and most of the great dining areas and bars of Bangkok are located close by. Thus, location gets 5 stars.

2) Most of the people staying in five star hotels like chauffeured taxis, but I prefer public transportation in Bangkok as the traffic can get to you sometimes. In that effect, this hotel scores very well as it is right next door to the Silom BTS (Skytrain) station.

3) The hotel is nicely done in traditional Thai style and the rooms are top class as one can expect from a five star hotel.

4) They have 11 restaurants, bars and lounges in-house and the food quality is top class.

5) During my brief stay here, the facilities and services that caught my attention were a beautiful landscaped garden with a waterfall, an outdoor golf driving range, in-house shopping arcade and outdoor swimming pool with sun deck.

6) I saw boards talking about a spa, but didn’t get time to go that side.

7) The views from the room are city views and may not be that appealing. But, who stays in the middle of Bangkok for views.

8) Like any other five star hotel, all the staff of this hotel are highly service-oriented and very helpful.

If you seek luxury and wish to stay in the heart of Bangkok, do give this hotel a look.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Prachinburi: Hub for Traditional Thai Medicine and Massages

Most of us tourists who visit Thailand end up indulging in a Thai massage. But, as tourists we believe that we are getting an authentic one, but with the huge demand for massages, massage parlors have sprung up all around the country and at every tourist location. And these massage parlors that look authentic to us are not the true Thai ones. The traditional and authentic ones end up remaining a secret and known only to the locals or a select few travelers who have local contacts or stay for a longer time in Thailand.

Getting a traditional Thai Massage at Prachin Buri, Thailand
The model in this photo is Chris, my travel blogger friend who writes on Tieland to Thailand.

But, I found a great place when I visited Prachinburi on an invite from the tourism authority of Thailand. This town located in the Central part of Thailand and at about 100 kms away from Bangkok is not on the itinerary of many tourists. But, it certain deserves more attention as it is one of the more important spots related to traditional Thai Medicine.

The Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate Hospital - a beautiful colonial building in Prachin Buri, Thailand
The main attraction here is the Chao Phraya Abhaibhubejhr hospital, which was once a colonial building and royal residence in the early 20th century. But, since that time, this place has morphed into a famous hub for herbal products and traditional Thai medicine.

Colonial Architecture of the Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate Hospital in Prachin Buri, Thailand
The colonial building that is a part of this hospital was constructed with the personal funds of Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate, the then governor of Prachinburi, as a residence of King Rama V during his visit to this province. The king never got to stay in this colonial building and upon his death, the building went to his queen who finally laid the foundation for converting this into a hospital.

Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate Hospital - Thai Traditional Medicine Hub
It is because of this hospital that Prachinburi is perceived as a medical hub in Thailand, especially with the local Thai people. Apart from rendering traditional Thai healthcare, this place houses a traditional Thai medicine museum to help visitors understand Thai herbal wisdom and traditional healing. The hospital works together with the local community in doing herbal farming, which gives a livelihood to the farmers and helps the hospital get their raw ingredients.

Thai Traditional Medicine at Chao Phraya Abhaibhubhate hospital, Prachin Buri, Thailand
As a visitor, if you feel like testing these Thai medicines and herbal products, you can walk over to the herbal shop inside the hospital premises and pick from an interesting array of herbal products that include cosmetics, tea, daily use medicines, pain relieving balms, tea, health drinks and more. The prices are extremely reasonable and the quality is nearly international standard. The only difference being, the end product is completely natural.

Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate Hospital, Prachin Buri, Thailand
This hospital also leverages the knowledge of traditional Thai medicine and dovetails it into traditional Thai massages and the end result is a massage that can get rid of most of your muscle related ailments. The hospital has a massage center that offers massages to visitors for a reasonable charge. Personally, I took a massage here and found it to be a great experience and much better than the massages that I took in the tourist areas across Thailand. I am happy I found this place. You should go too and find the true traditional Thai medicine and massages here.

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Serene Selva: Finding Peace and Beauty in the Magnificent Mountains of Majorca

Majorca is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. However, while it is often the bars, beaches and lively nightlife that attract the big crowds, there is another side of the island to explore. Selva is a small, peaceful town located in the mountainous interior of Majorca, and it is a world away from the coastal resorts. It’s worth visiting next time you spend holidays in Majorca, so here’s a quick guide to discovering the peace and tranquillity of a very different Majorca.

Relax in Selva Selva is a tiny town in the interior of the island, near to the Sierra de Tramuntana mountains. Despite the remote feel of the town, it is very easy to access by taxi or by rented vehicle, although public transport options are more limited. This is a town full of character and charm, which will make you feel instantly relaxed. It may not have a beach, but if you want to surround yourself with the rugged scenery of the interior of Majorca and get away from the hectic resorts, this is a perfect place to chill out.

Fiestas, Walks & Nature Parks As you would expect, Selva is not the sort of place where you will spend all your time in bars and restaurants. This is more a place to explore the natural surroundings and take it all in at your own pace.

Although there are some attractions in Selva to visit, such as the Church of St Lorenzo, getting out and about is the name of the game here. One of the first places to visit is the Santa Magdalena monastery near Inca, from which you’ll also be rewarded with spectacular views.

You are also not too far from S’Albufera Natural Park, a lovely area to explore on foot or by bike. The bird life here is exceptional, and the trails are easy to follow.

A number of fairs are held in or around Selva, including the Selva Herb Fair, which takes place in June. As you would imagine, this is a celebration of all things herbs, and you will find herbal food, drink and even medicines promoted in the town square.

The celebration of Sant Llorenc is one of the main festivals, which is held in August each year. Many other nearby villages have their own festivals in July and August, making this a very good time to visit.

Make Selva Your Base If you want to avoid staying in a resort and instead want to stay somewhere more relaxed, look for an apartment or villa to rent in Selva using a company like Housetrip. You will never feel isolated here because it is so near to other towns and resorts. For example, it’s only three kilometres from Inca and even a trip to Alcudia is easy to arrange, meaning you can travel to these other places with ease if you have transport.

Visit Selva for Peace & Tranquillity Selva is a beautiful destination in the heart of Majorca, where you will discover a different side to this popular holiday island. Explore the island further by venturing deep into its tranquil interior, and if you want to enjoy some peace and quiet, while still being able to venture into the larger towns when you need to, Selva is the perfect place to stay.

About the author of this post: Olivia Cooke is a self-confessed perpetual tourist and avid blogger. You can find her helpful articles mainly on travel blogs.

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60 Baht Currency Note

How many of you can say that you have seen a currency note that had a value of 60 attached to it? We have all seen 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and even bigger, but a currency denomination like 60 is very rare. Well, this was the first time I saw such a note at the Ban Dong Krathong Yam village, located in Eastern Thailand where it was showcased in their museum.

60 Thai Baht Currency Note
Apparently, this note was not in active circulation, but was only printed and released to commemorate the King’s 60th birthday. A special gesture it was and the end result was a even more special currency note. Have you come across such a rare currency denomination ever during your travels?

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Travel Photo: Floating Dessert Shop

Bangkok is often referred to as the Venice of the East and ample glimpses of it can be seen in and around its various canals that diverge from the Chao Phraya river, the lifeline of Bangkok. The canals function in the same manner as our roads. The only difference being commute takes place on small boats with paddle oars or the motorized long tail boats.

Dessert being served at the Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
The highlight for a tourist to these canals are the floating markets. On my recent trip to Thailand, I went and paid a visit to the Taling Chan floating market, one of the more easily accessible floating markets from Bangkok. Here one can find vegetable sellers on boats, floating restaurants, floating dessert shops and much more who sell their produce on this part of the canal.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Taste Adventure Sports at Mui Ne, South Vietnam

It is very rarely that nature presents sand dunes next to the ocean. It is common to visualize ocean and sand dunes separately, but to see a sight of them together is quite special. Northern Africa is one such place where such sights are seen regularly, but for Indians, North Africa is a bit too far and hence I was very thrilled when I found such a place in South Vietnam.

Tourists enjoying the Mui Ne Red Sand Dunes
This place is Mui Ne, located on the south eastern coast of Vietnam and kissing the waters of the South China Sea. This beach town is a hot favorite of the Russians, many of whom have made this place a permanent base outside of Russia. I guess the Russian influence came during the Vietnam war days and may be they liked the sun kissed beaches here and decide to settle down for good.

Red Sand Dunes next to the South China Sea
There is so much Russian influence in the hotels, tourist spots and restaurants here that it is a no brainer that Russians love this place. But, Mui Ne is not just about the Russians. It offers so much that all kinds of travelers and tourists will like it, especially nature and adventure lovers.

Line of Boats at Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam
Mui Ne is famous for kite surfing. Apparently, the winds and waves here are perfect for someone who wants to learn to kite surf and wishes to indulge in some serious adventure. Basically, the place is a kite surfing mecca. There are different spots around Mui Ne for different levels of Kite Surfers. If you feel like learning this water adventure sport, avail the services of the many kite surfing schools based in Mui Ne.

Mui Ne Highway next to the white sand dunes

In addition to adventure on water, Mui Ne offers interesting experiences on its land too. Near Mui Ne, there are two types of sand dunes. The red sand dunes that are located at about 15 kilometers from the city and the white ones that are located about 35 kilometers away. These are the larger sand dunes, but the small ones seem to be located all around Mui Ne’s landscape.

Dunes, Oasis and the Sea at Mui Ne, Vietnam
These sand dunes offer a great dune surfing experience. Either you carry your own dune surfing board or buy a piece of plastic and make it work like a surf board. It is serious fun to surf down these long and wavy sand dunes. The only issue is climbing up back to the top of the dunes as the fine sand keeps slipping under your feet and even a short climb can leave you gasping for oxygen.

The Red Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam
These dune surfing activities are best done either in the early morning or late evening hours when the dunes are not overly hot and the sun and winds are gentle on the body. Apart from offering perfect conditions for dune surfing, these time slots also offer fantastic views of the South China Sea amidst eye catching colors of the sand dunes in the shining golden rays of the sun.

Sand Skiing at Mui Ne Red Sand Dunes, Vietnam
The best way to go around, visit all the hot spots and indulge in the adventure associated with it would be on a motorbike that you can hire at Mui Ne. The motorbike would also aid in carrying your surf boards and other gear. Plus, it will allow you to pick and choose remote adventure spots.

The Red Sand Dunes of Mui Ne at Sunset
And once you are excited and tired after your adventurous day on either the ocean or the dunes, you can return to your beach house and enjoy a drink while enjoying the sunset in the distance. Great seafood and good nightlife is just the icing on the cake. But, Mui Ne’s foremost qualities are its rare sand dunes and its love for adventure.

How to get here: A 5 to 6 hour drive can get you to Mui Ne from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). There are many bus operators who take you right into the heart of the city. Train is also an option, though the nearest station is 45 minutes away from Mui Ne.

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Pottery Town of Twante in the Ayerawaddy Delta of Myanmar

In this fast paced life of gadgets and automation, a lot of traditional skills in the world have been lost forever. But, thanks to Burma having been closed for a long while from the rest of the world, some of these skills can still be seen in their truest form. And it is not for tourists that these skills survive like in many parts of South East Asia, but these skills are there for their livelihood and for feeding their family.

A Twante, Burma Pottery man at work
One can see such a skill through the many pottery workshops at Twante, a riverside town nestled in the Ayerawaddy delta of Burma. The town is not on the traditional tourist map and hence a lot of the experience is true rural Myanmar experience.

Pots from the Pottery Town of Twante, Burma
In Myanmar, it is said that most of their pots are made in Twante and its proximity to Yangon only helps with the broader reach. The pots here are made from the soil found in the Ayerawaddy delta. The soil here has pretty high clay content. Even before you enter a pottery workshop, you will see huge mounds of this soil and also the finished products of bright colored large pots kept arranged in nice straight lines.

Pottery 101 at Twante, Myanmar
A typical pottery workshop would be a thatched setup with mud walls, probably from the same mud that builds the pots. Inside this pottery workshop, one will find all the tools, all the burning furnaces and working areas for these potters.

Pots made in front of me at Twante, Burma
These potters are local people, whose families have specialized in this ancient art for centuries. And they chose to continue on it in spite of making marginally higher income if they moved into paddy cultivation in the extremely fertile Ayerawaddy delta.

Pottery Shed in Twante, Iyerawaddy delta, Burma
There are no costs associated with any of these pottery workshops and one can simply walk in and see the work and the end product. If you feel like contributing to their lives you can pay as much as you can. Even $2 per person means a lot of money for them.

Pagoda at Twante, Burma
While the pottery workshops are the main attraction of this pottery town, one can also drop by the Twante Pagoda, which is similar in design and structure to the Shwedagon Pagoda, but the good part is that this pagoda is free for all. Apart from visiting the pagoda, one can also spend some time around the riverside and even take a ride on a long tail boat on the delta waters.

Pottery workshops at Twante, Myanmar
And if you feel like getting your hands dirty, you can go and watch the workers work in a paddy field here all day long. This will be very interesting especially during the planting or harvest time.

Lines of pots at Twante, Myanmar
How to get to Twante: Base yourself at Yangon. Leave early in the morning, say at 7 or 8 AM. Carry your passport and US Dollars and catch a ferry from the Pansodan ferry terminal to Dalla. The ticket costs US$1 per person for one way. From Dalla, one can either catch a taxi to Twante – 2500 kyat per person or take a public bus (500 kyat per person – this is what the locals pay). The public bus is slow, but offers a great way to understand the local culture and people.

The Myanmar Tri Shaw and its owner
For travel within Twante, one can hire a tricycle. A full city tour on a tricycle for 2 people should cost you 2500 kyat, but you can pay more if you feel like as these tricycle drivers are poor and do a lot of hard work. For your return, you can follow everything similar to the onward journey and if you feel like you can spend some time at the Dalla local market to see how the locals go about their business and what products are consumed by the local Myanmar people in this belt.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Invited by Tourism Authority of Thailand

Tomorrow night, I embark on a 6 day trip to Thailand and Cambodia. This trip is part of an invite from Tourism Authority of Thailand  Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia. I have worked with tourism boards and have gone on other FAM trips before, but this one is my first tourism board FAM trip.

Out of these 6 days, I will spend the first 4 days in Thailand and the next 2 days in Cambodia. Here’s how the overall plan looks like:

Bangkok, Thailand
Dusit Thani Hotel | Taling Chan Floating Market | Ploen Restaurant | Chatuchak Weekend Market | World Gourmet Festival at Four Seasons Bangkok

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand
Creation World Wild Wood | Khun Dan Prakarnchon Dam | Bhumirak Dhamachart Project | Chorchamuang Restaurant | Royal Hill Resort

Prachinburi –> Srakaew –> Aranyaprathet, Thailand
Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate | Ban Dong Krathong Yam | Ban Klong Luek Border Market or Talat Rong Kluea | Makmai Restaurant | Tournesol Boutique Hotel

Siem Reap
Cassia Restaurant | Prasat Ta Prohm | Prasat Bayon | Sokha Angkor Resort | Angkor Wat | Asian Square Restaurant | Dinner with Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia

I am very excited to be a part of this FAM trip and look forward to discover more of ‘Amazing Thailand’ and ‘Cambodia – kingdom of wonder’. Do stay tuned for regular updates here on this blog and my Facebook and twitter streams. I am sure you are as excited as me!!

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Skyscanner: Cheapest and Best Flight Deals on the Web

I am sure a lot of people out there know about Skycanner. If you do not, I would recommend that you look it up. I have been using Skyscanner for my travel planning and have found amazing results. In my opinion, it offers some of the best tools and coverage to provide the cheapest flight options. I have broken down their functionality and strengths to help you get a better perspective of Skyscanner’s true power.

Unbelievable Coverage
Skyscanner covers most of the cities and countries on this planet. If there is a flight between two destinations, in all probability, it is on Skyscanner. It covers low cost airlines and full service airlines, making it a wholesome travel portal. Thus, wherever you wish to travel to, you should be able to find the best deal via Skyscanner.

Find the cheapest flights to any destination 
Skyscanne tool for flight search
For a traveler like me who travels without any prior plan, this feature comes in very handy. This allows you to find the cheapest destination. To give you an example, I am in Bangalore and don’t know where I want to go next. But, have a budget constraint and hence would only go to certain destinations depending on the flight deals. This is precisely where Skyscanner comes in handy. It throw a result of all countries/cities that flights from Bangalore fly into and not just that, but it gives their fares too. Now, isn't that a cool feature to have for us budget travelers? 

Find the cheapest flight to any destination
From this list, Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates piqued my interest as they were on my travel list and Sri Lanka more so because it was cheaper. Now, I can select Sri Lanka, pick the city, select the date and go ahead with my flight booking. As simple as that.

Flexible dates can result in serious cost savings
imageThere are always certain days of the week when flights in different parts of the world are expensive. Some domestic travelers might know this trend, but us international travelers and people lacking time to research would hardly know anything about it. But, Skyscanner does understand this behavior and it aims to provide us the cheapest options provided we keep our dates flexible.

Let’s say that I want to travel from Bangalore to Colombo. I can fly today, tomorrow, this week, this month or anytime this year as long as the flight costs are reasonable. Skyscanner offers such options that allow me to search for that cheapest flight. 

Finding cheapest flights by timeline
I can then see the option either in a calendar view that allows me to pick closest dates or a price view that allows me to pick on price. A very helpful feature for most traveler types.

Ability to book directly with flight operator or travel agent
Ability to directly book with flight operators and travel agents
Most of the flight search tools allow booking only through their portal as they make their profits from cost that they add onto each ticket. Skyscanner doesn’t function in that fashion. It allows the user to book directly with the flight operators or travel agent in that travel zone. This gives additional flexibility to us travelers.

Lots of filtering options while choosing flights 
Skyscanner Filtering Options
Some people hate hop over flights. Some travelers have a preference for an airline to accrue on more air miles. I take red eye flights to save on cost, but not all travelers are like me. Some like to take flights from the airport close to them. Skyscanner handles the whims and fancies of all travelers by allowing them to filter flights by number of stops, take off/landing time, airline, price, airport, etc. 

Zero Fees
Skyscanner is freeThe best part about the Skyscanner experience is that they don’t charge anything from us customers. They make their money directly from the operators. So, we can rest assured of any hidden charges.

Book Hotel Rooms and Hire Cars
Book Hotels and Hire CarsNot only can we find the cheapest flight deals through Skyscanner, we can also book hotel rooms and hire cars. Now after booking my cheap flight to Colombo from Bangalore, I can find a hotel room that suits my class/budget/need and book it right on Skyscanner. Similarly, I can hire a car that fits my spacing needs/budget/comfort, etc. and book it again on Skyscanner. This feature is an extension of the overall Skyscanner concept and hence the usability and  comfort factor remains the same.

Localized Content
Skyscanner caters to a global customer base. And hence they make their flight search tool available in over 29 languages and over 70 currencies.

Skyscanner – Free Apps for Mobile Devices

Skyscanner App for AndroidIn today’s world, most of our online time is spent through our mobile devices (tablets and phones) and Skyscanner has taken care of this behavior by having a simple app for iPhone and iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Windows 8. 

This app is an extension of the web version and provides all the features in a different form factor. These apps are totally free too!

I hope this review of Skyscanner has piqued your interest and I am sure you will use it for your current and future travel booking needs. You can follow them via their Facebook page and twitter updates to know about the latest offers and deals.

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Logo Credits : Jobi T Chacko. UI/UX Credits : Murugan S Thirumalai
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