Hello Vietnam! Getting to know Hanoi’s Old Quarters

Honestly, Vietnam wasn’t a destination that was on my list or on any of my travel plans for this year. It is only when certain travel photos and videos flooded my Facebook wall and I started hearing stories about this country on travel groups is when I thought of giving it a go. Making this year about traveling South Asia.

So my mother and I finally decided on doing Cambodia and Vietnam for our mother daughter trip. Which ended up becoming my short solo trip in Siem Reap -> a mother daughter trip in Vietnam -> my mom’s short solo trip in Siem Reap

(Talk about the perils of working women and work leaves)

I arrived in Hanoi from Siem Reap at night only to see that my hotel driver hasn’t arrived yet. That is when I realised how valuable my Uber app is.

So after settling into a cosy bedroom at my boutique hotel (Check out La Beaute De Hanoi) I only wondered how I’m going to eat around Hanoi in the next couple of days.

And I did. But along with so much more.

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Hanoi’s old quarter is perfect for travelers looking to get a true local experience. There is a buzz in this little heart of Hanoi that reminded me of old Kolkata. The narrow winding lanes with food peddlers, to local shops haggling with customers to rickshaws (tuk tuks) trying to get people to ride with them even for short walk able distances.

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Even with this hustle and bustle, one can distinctly witness the feel of traditional  Vietnamese customs, when you smell the local food, walk to the beautiful Hoan Khiem lake and watch local theatre. The place that was once a french capital still has those European influences that becomes more apparent when you discover small buildings and take a closer look at the place’s architecture.

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The Saint Joseph Cathedral for example, reminded me of Paris’ Notre Dame at the first glimpse (which it was apparently inspired by). The charms of the oldest catholic church in the city is incomparable. While the church itself inspired by Notre Dame de Paris has a lot to show travellers, narrating tales with its bell towers and stained glass windows, the small cafes and restaurants surrounding the church was what further reminded me of Paris, making the French connection even more apparent.

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So as I got introduced to Hanoi, I did more than sip on that delicious egg coffee, and dragged my mother to try Vietnamese spring roll and a small crummy cafe or later drag her to sit and eat Bun Cha just like a certain Mr. Obama did. I walked those streets of Hanoi in the rain, I sat by the lake with countless other tourists. I watched one of the nicest local theatrical performances at the local water puppet theater. I found myself learning about Hanoi in my own way, that is my favourite part about traveling. Moments that teach me and introduce me to a new place and Memories that I bring back with me after every visit.

Next – my little food experiences in Hanoi!

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1 AND A HALF DAYS IN THE PINK CITY #JAIPUR ROYAL HOMES

After spending half a day in Jaipur, I was very excited about the next. Specially cause I had plans to spend the full day exploring. But I admit I overestimated my wandering abilities and time management skills. While I had plans to see a lot more, I ended up spending the day only between Jaipur’s City Palace and Amer/Amber Fort.

No matter how long or short a visit is, time always seems to run out, doesn’t it? I was facing the same problem on this very hot day. I started my day at the iconic City Palace.

The moment we entered the official ground we were met by a small puppet show. And I have to say I loved it! The singers were rustic and gave me the taste of Rajasthan I had always imagined. Please check out the video below of the puppet show! (click on the picture)

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Now social media may lead you to believe that solo travelers and other Instagrammers are the only people at locations where they post amazing pictures. But what doesn’t show is the line of people waiting to take pics at the same spot. The City Palace doors have been a favourite for these social media travelers. And I admit, I do the same.

But I did get awkward at the bunch of people waiting and just couldn’t get my self to pose and look as close to glamorous as I wanted to. What I did end up looking like was a silly girl with mismatched shoes trying to get her moment.

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But just  getting the perfect travel photo isn’t what travelling is about. I got lost in the paint and details in these doors at the City Palace and started understanding why it was so picture perfect. So simple, nothing elaborate that one might spot at Versailles or Louvre…but it was elegant, had cultural significance and was Royal.

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I spent the next couple of hours just wandering between corridors, just randomly finding shade and admiring the details and colours on the walls and thinking about where I should have lunch!

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My next destination was Amer Fort, the gorgeous Indian castle that had so much history was indeed breathtaking. Crowded of course, with a ‘tour guide’ trying to haggle you every 2 seconds it got overwhelming. But I didn’t have an history quiz to ace. I just wanted to stroll and explore. And I did.

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I walked every bit I could in the hot sun, started melting my skin off and sweated like a pig. But I didn’t care. I was loving it. Amer, was the home of  Emperor Akbar’s queen, Jodha Bai. Amer is an incredibly important historic spot in our country and has witnessed many stories over the years. It has witnessed numerous Bollywood movies that have been shot there, and somehow it also witnessed my first Jaipur visit.

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The mirror palace, ‘sheesh mahal’ inside was beautiful. Built in the 16th Century, the convex shaped mirrors designed with coloured foil and paint were apparently known as the “glittering jewel box” when lit up with numerous candles. Now wouldn’t that be a spectacular sight? Wish I could transport myself back in time to see something that beautiful.

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I didn’t even realise how much time I spent till my stomach started growling. I had googled places to eat and found that within the fort itself lay a restaurant that had converted a part of the original palace into a fine dining restaurant 1135 AD

Normally, I only care about the food, but sitting inside a palace and sipping a glass of red I treated myself to a different kind of luxurious experience. The overpriced simple meal that I had was a treat only because of the ambiance, and the chandeliers that loomed over me.

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It was a nice way to end the day. I originally had made plans to stay back in Amer to enjoy the light show, but I was tired. I had walked a lot and the sun had drained me. So all I wanted to do after was to head back, shower and sleep.

This Jaipur visit showed me that even a day is enough to get introduced to a new place, even half a day is enough to explore. I can’t wait to go back. And there is so much more!

Rajasthan I will be back soon!

1 and a Half Days in the Pink City #Jaipur

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Rajasthan has been the one state that I had been dying to visit for years. From wonderful pictures in school textbooks to Satyajit Ray giving me dreams about visiting ‘Sonar Kella’ (Jaiselmer Fort) to my mother’s stories about her trips to this amazing state.

It’s the India that the world portrays us by, forts, palaces, colours, traditions there is so much to this place. I decided that I ain’t going to sit and wonder when I would get a chance to see this place.

So when the opportunity came I decided to grab it! Even if it meant flying to Jaipur for 1 and half days. Jaipur hence became my first Rajasthan experience.

Jaipur over the years has gotten a reputation of becoming a very popular destination with it’s old world charm. The ‘Pink City’ as it’s known introduced me to a different world. I say different because it was my first visit, but like every Indian city the streets were chaotic, the food was amazing and the colours grabbed my attention everywhere.

I had of course read up and made a small list of places I needed to see in the 1 and a half day I had. And I’m glad to report that I managed to make the most of it.

Let’s start with the Hawa Mahal

It looked small when I was standing opposite the road and I almost didn’t recognise it. But when I got close I realised why it was larger than life. Why it was such an important aspect of the city.

The story everyone knows, it was built like a big window for the women of the royal household to observe the street while being ‘hidden’ from the outside world. (Thank god for a little feminism in the new world)

The honeycombed walls and the numerous windows that look to the city is enough to grab eyeballs and as a first time visitor I couldn’t take my eyes off the place. I even stood in the rain to capture this moment.

 

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There is a museum of course, but I decided to save time and not go. Something a local ‘tuk-tuk’ driver adviced me. And while I’m sure the views would have been great and the narrow corridors inside would have charmed me I decided to save time.

Yes the local drivers were very helpful and I preferred taking the ‘tuk tuk’ or as we desi people call it ‘auto’ than an uber just to feel a bit more one with the city. The city is about old and new and these guys know how to dodge traffic better than anyone. These people are much better guides to the city and I was lucky to find one such man who decided to force me to go to the ‘water palace’ Jal Mahal.

While I really wanted to see this place and I had knocked off attractions like the Jantar Mantar of my short list for a day trip, I was skeptical about going to the spot at 6 in the evening.

But I was convinced and I was very happy that I listened. Because nothing can beat the gorgeous sunset I saw before me.

Imagine a water palace (3/4 of which is supposed to be under water) in the middle of the lake, and the sky changing right before you. That is the type of moment that makes me feel better about my life. I wanted to be the princess strolling through this under water castle and it almost killed me that I couldn’t get a chance to see it from the inside. (it’s closed off to the public)

This was one of the most beautiful evenings I spent.

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With the ducks in the water and the hills behind, with the orange and blue in the sky turning into a deeper indigo, I was in a state of partial awe. And I only say partial because tuning out the crowd around you isn’t easy. But good thing is I get to remember the bits and pieces I want to about my trip.

This was my half day in Jaipur, the next was going to a little more of wandering but all that wandering got me enough time to only check out Jaipur’s iconic City Palace and the even more famous Amber/Amer Fort.

But more on that soon.

 

A Bali Birthday! Day 4 Pura Ulun Danu

My mother sent me a picture while I was chatting with her and letting her know how my Bali trip was going. The text that followed the picture simply said “Go Here”

The picture looked like any other post card but wasn’t labelled at all, so I asked if she knew the name of the place?

She didn’t

So both me and my mom tried to figure out where this beautiful looking temple was sitting in two different countries. and somehow we did. It was one that is considered Bali’s most iconic temple. One that Indonesia Tourism always highlights in any tourism campaign. One that is even on their currency! It was the Pura Ulun Danu temple…. beautifully sitting on the shores of Lake Bratan.

The temple was a couple hours drive from Ubud, and I was contemplating whether I should choose this place or just head towards a sandy beach in the north that I had been lusting after. But the Ulun Danu temple sounded like a magical place and hence I decided to visit it on my fourth and second last day in Bali.

The road was terrible and I, the Indian am definitely used to bad roads. Once we reached the spot, I started regretting it because the only things I could see was tour buses and crowds. I realised that if my mother found this picture and this place was so popular all tourist agencies and group tourists probably spend the day here.

My visit to Mt. Titlis in Switzerland was spoiled because of the same reason and I started really blaming myself. Even the entry fee to this spot was much more than the other temples I visited.

The temple itself was quaint and beautiful. The background had misty green mountains and the lake looked endless. It was perfect. So I decided to ignore the swarms of tourists in matching t-shirts and the plastic boat ‘bebeks’ (ducks) that was photobombing my every attempt to get a great picture.

I decided to get past it and just look at the real deal in front of me.

 

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Yes I wish we could avoid all those elements but then again my visit to Ulun Danu taught me that I am more patient than I know.

After I decided to tune out the noise and focused on the clouds it seemed like a great a visit that was worth the effort. Yes I would still recommend a visit, but perhaps try and avoiding peak visit hours. An early morning to visit would be the best bet.

When I tell my mother about it now, she says at least you got some great pictures.

Well I did.

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A Bali Birthday! Day 3 Waterfalls Volcanoes and Rice Terraces…

We need an outlet to be expressive and like many others writing has always been mine, whether it was scribbling notes to my friends or writing long letters to my mother after a fight, it’s been a part of me. So the minute I discovered that travel has become the another aspect of me, it just felt right to write. (Never said I was good at it :-P)

So here I am writing about my third day in beautiful Bali, trying to make the most of what I can in a measly 5 days. But this birthday trip was important to me. For the first time in my life I made a decision without worrying about the 10,000 things that I usually worry about.

I woke up on my 3rd day in Bali in the beautiful villa I was staying at in Ubud. I was excited but even with my 8 page long itenary I had no clue how to go about the day. So during breakfast I decided to stop looking at Google Maps and just give it a go.

We finally decided to check out the Tegenungan Waterfall, simply because it was closer to us, and the ones I had read about more like Git Git and Sekumpul were a bit far away. But visiting Tegenungan was a very good decision. We expected a small local fall that would be a short stop for an Instagram moment….

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Well I surely got my Instagram moments

The Tegenungun falls was magical, I hated myself for not being ready for the water and wearing appropriate outfits. I envied the people who were swimming close to the falls and experiencing something wonderful. I didn’t want to leave the place, water has a power that draws us towards it, and despite my ridiculous outfit and non swimming abilities, I wanted to spend my entire day here. But after a while I had to drag myself out of there remembering that I had to see as much as I could. So I had to say bye, but not before I splashed around in the water.

We decided for lunch we should go somewhere we can absorb the breathtaking views of Mt. Batur. A 4 hour sunrise trek is what most people do, to get the best views! But I don’t have the stamina to do what I have heard is quite a difficult trek. However one day I shall, isn’t that what bucket lists are for?

Till then… I decided to settle down for the views of the mountain and the lake in front of me. I am a person easy to please. Today before visiting any place we get to read experiences of others and while it inspires it also makes me wonder why I can’t be doing that.

But I am a very average person, an ordinary girl with a lot of dreams. But in that moment I was living one of them. In that moment I wasn’t ordinary. I wasn’t able to do a trek to be on the top of the world, but the views from below weren’t bad either 🙂

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Last but not the least Tegalalang rice terraces was what we wanted to stop at before we return to the villa and splash around in the pool. Very honestly, I was tired. I realised how a 9 to 9 job and city life has made a stiff person like me into a robot! And this is something I really need to change about myself.

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I walked as much as I could between the gorgeous rice farms, took my pictures, failed at vlogging cause as I was capturing on video while walking on the narrow trails, my leg sank into the wet sand and me in front of the cool people around me.

Well experiences comes in all shapes and sizes! 😀

I knew that I had only two more days left but every moment made me feel more special. Every moment I felt myself grow into the person I want to be. Every moment I hated that I had to go back to reality and in those very moments I was making plans of how I can come back here. And I will.

All Aboard el Tren de Churro! (Or Not?)

Follow the link to Khaana And Cocktails

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The experiences we’ve documented so far have been for the most part positive ones, but this next stop in Madrid was a bit disappointing. It was a must to visit one of the classic churro cafés in the city, so the gang and I went to the 121-year-old Chocolatería San Ginés. It was TripAdvisor-approved, maintaining a 4-star rating with several thousand reviews.

The line, which extended outside the entrance, also made it seem like a promising prospect. The queue moved quickly and as we were paying I even commented to a friend that I hoped it was really delicious and not just popular because it was quite a good deal (only €3.5 for 6 long churros and the chocolate).

They looked very promising!

“Right! I loved the whole train booth seating and interiors…as far as the churros were concerned it was I’m guessing more disappointing because of the hype behind the…

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A Bali Birthday! Day 2 Getting Blessed at Pura Tirta Empul

Visiting iconic Balinese temples was something I was really looking forward to on my first Bali trip. I come from a land that is home to some of the most beautiful temples in the world, out of which I have possibly seen only a measly 1%. So within my 5 days in Bali I didn’t want to miss out on an experience that was supposed to be serene and spiritual.

And it was, the Pura Tirta Empul was a place that felt special the minute you enter the temple courtyards. I am not a very religious person, but I don’t know why I felt that visiting this temple would be the right way to spend my birthday. I wanted to be in an environment which would allow me to embrace the positive vibes and soak in the magical energy that comes from these places of worship.

What I liked was that Balinese temples have rules, that helps them protect the sanctity of the temple. That doesn’t allow tourists to trespass on certain areas out of respect. It was sacred.

My friend and I decided to do the ritual at the Pura Tirta, we had heard wonderful things about the clear holy spring that was the highlight of the place. We wanted to do the traditional rituals ourselves but had to first understand the process.

The main attraction here was a long rectangular pool carved of stone, filled with koi that were fed by the sacred spring through a series fountains, each that had a spiritual significance.

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Worshippers first make an offering at the temple, then climb into the main pool to bathe and pray. We had to change into the right sarongs then purchase our temple offerings and meditate for around 10 minutes seeking blessings and permissions from the Gods, before we could step into the water.

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We met someone from the temple, who explained the symbolic meanings that each fountain represented. The first 10 represented 10 sins, the next 2 was giving us a chance to make wishes, the 2 that followed was supposed to be touched only for a funeral ceremony…and the one after that was meant to clean any darkness that came from our past lives.

We were supposed to go to each fountain (except the 2 that was meant for funerals), take in the water in our mouths and then spit it out. Do this three times.

Then we take in the water again, where we drink the water this time. Do this three times.

And finally bend our head to let the water fall over us and cleanse our sins away and bless us.

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I don’t know if it was the holy water that was supposed to heal me or the magical energy that came from the belief and prayers around me. But I believed that somewhere this was helping my soul.

Whether it was the large fish in the water that swam by me, or gorgeous water that cooled and calmed me, the Pura Tirta spring was pure and that is why it was such an amazing experience.

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