April 23, 2009

Amazing Thailand 2008

I had no plan to visit Thailand, suddenly we decided to go. As Amit had 3 days training in Bangkok; he asked me to come with him. Initially I said no but I thought again and decided to go.
This was my first holiday abroad. I had been to few countries before and spent 2-3 days in Sri Lanka enjoying weekend but never been anywhere as a tourist.
I did lots of R&D on places to visit hotels to stay, etc. Thailand is a very tourist friendly country. Everything was very cheap including hotel rates, transportation and even shopping.

We reached Suvarnabhumi airport, it is on outskirts of Bangkok. They had kept free detailed maps of Bangkok and Pattaya on airport. There were ATM machines to withdraw money and lots of money changers. I found these money changers everywhere in BKK and Pattaya like small shops we find in India. We hired car instead of taxi which was pretty cheap to Pattaya. The road to Pattaya from BKK airport and Crisscross flyovers were amazing. You can see in the picture below.

Crisscross Flyovers

Road to Pattaya

Entering Pattaya City

After two and half hours we reached Pattaya, very bustling town. Checked in in hotel and immediately went out to check the activities. First of all I wanted to book the tickets for Alcazar show. Luckily we got very good seats through a travel agent. This show as really amazing, full of colors and light. Performances were excellent; they had performed on songs of various countries even Indian (Hindi) song.

View from room- Pattaya

Photos of Alcazar Show

After buying tickets of show, we had ample of time to roam around in the town. We found lots of two wheelers kept outside of many shops for hire. We hired one and went to see Mini Siam; this was bit far from main town. In Mini Siam, they had kept many miniatures of monuments like Eiffel tower, lining tower of Pisa, tower bridge London etc. After spending an hour in Mini Siam, we went to travel agent again to book a half day island tour. There are many islands around and we choose tour to Koh Larn by speed boat. This was our first experience to go by speed boat. Speed boat was really very speedy; I felt it was jumping on water. After almost 30 minutes of bumpy ride we reached on a boat with huge open platform (deck) for parasailing.

Statue at Mini Siam

Mini Tower Bridge - London

Mini Eiffel tower

Mini lining tower of Pisa

I am not very adventurous person but still I choose to do parasailing as it was in my itinerary and I found it was safe. It was the best experience I ever had, felt that I was flying. This half day tour had many activities like under water walk, scuba diving, snorkeling, etc. Well, but you have to pay for each activity separately. After parasailing we reached our island Koh Larn on the island we enjoyed some water sports and shopping. I bought lots of souvenirs. After spending almost half day, we came back by speed boat to Pattaya and still had half day to roam around. Visited a mall nearby which had 4D motion theater; Repley’s believe it or not museum and many other things. Night we went to have dinner on floating restaurant. This was also a great experience.

All set for parasailing

Koh Larn - Our day trip Island

Koh Larn


We in decorated Tuk-Tuk

Dinner on floating restaurant

We spent only 2 days in Pattaya but almost seen the entire town and did all the activities possible.

On third day morning, we took cab and came to Bangkok. This city is well connected by BTS (Sky train) and MRT (Underground trains) and even by tuk-tuk (in Mumbai we call it Rickshaw). I always wanted to travel by sky train or metro trains, my wish fulfilled here. Ticketing machines, indications to all entry, exits, and places near to station was very easy to understand. In few hours we used the sky train so many times that I could even guide anyone. :)

Road to Bangkok

BKK- Building with dragon on it

Reaching Bangkok

Building with picture on it

Entering Bangkok city

BTS Station

Sky Train

One more interesting thing I found that many malls and buildings were connected by small bridges directly from sky train stations; it was indeed great experience that you don’t have to come on ground for anything once you go up to take train.

On that day, we went to see the Siam Ocean world located at Siam Paragon shopping mall. This was the first time I saw a huge and amazing Ocean world. Most amazing thing was they had created small aquarium in a fridge, a microware, a washing machine and even in a car. I could see only fishes and fishes all around. They had created a walkway where you can see fish on your sides and on your head too. They have even glass bottom boats to see the big fishes like shark.

Photos taken in Siam Ocean World

After spending afternoon at Ocean world, we headed to our next destination night bazaar, this place has several small restaurant and have 600~700 small shops for buying souvenirs. Before going there we went to Lumphini Park to spend sometime in the evening. This was very big park located near MRT station Silom. I could never remember anything here by road name as most of the road names are RAMA I, RAMA II, RAMA III, RAMA IV and so on. It was better to remember by MRT or BTS station. Later in Night bazaar I decided to check as many shops as possible but couldn’t even walk for more than hour. I must had seen about 50-60 shops only. I was too tired to walk and was very hungry but for Indian food, luckily we found Indian restaurant.

Lake in Lumphini Park

Next day we had plan to visit Buddha temples but Amit’s training got preponed, so I had decided to take group tour from my hotel. It was group tour with guide and I thought I will have company of about 15-20 people but we were only 3 and one guide. I got company of an old couple from Europe who was staying in my hotel and a lady guide. Our guide was a cheerful lady, she explained about all the temples and their importance. I saw a golden Buddha and huge sleeping Buddha statue and some other temples.

Temple - Recently renovated

Golden Buddha

Sleeping Buddha

Devotees praying Budhha

Beautiful statue of Buddha

While on our way to Gems Gallery, we went through China town. China town is the area which you always find in many Asian countries, it is very colorful but very dirty at the same time. The streets, shops are not very clean. I saw many big posters of Kind of Thailand on road in celebration of his birthday. Our guide told us that all the Thailand people love their King very much and they even wear National Emblem on particular day of week and I really found many tourist guides like her wearing National Emblem.

We reached Gems gallery, here the environment was very different, for almost all the visitors; there is one sales person to escort. I felt very awkward as I had no intention of buying any expensive jewelry. So after a walk through of shop, I asked the girl escorting me to go and attend other tourist but she didn’t go anywhere she helped me buying some small things as souvenirs. After shopping, 4 of us (I, old couple and our guide) had chat for 20-30 minutes. Then I got dropped at hotel.

In the evening, I and Amit visited MBK shopping mall; this is very huge mall and has more than 300-400 shops. As both of us were very tired, instead of shopping we went to see a movie. We became so localized within two days that we took BTS sky train, went to a multiplex to see movie and returned late in night to our hotel.

Next day I had flight in the evening; so I decided to take Thai Massage in the morning. Thai massage is very popular; I saw many small massage parlors in BKK & Pattaya. It was extremely good and relaxing.

View from my room - BKK hotel

Thailand is truly tourist friendly country. Traveling around is very easy by BTS & MRT. Even travel between two cities also very easy and cheap. I saw many 7Eleven shops in BKK which runs I think round a clock. Environment was so friendly that within 2-3 days of my stay, I felt I know this city since many years and can go around without any hassle same as local people.

Thailand trip was my first trip abroad as tourist and the most memorable trip ever. Well I am still in search of similar destinations….

April 16, 2009

Vietnam – The War Country

Vietnam - 2006

I heard about Vietnam as war country; they were fighting for several years with French and Americans.
When I got assignment in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City); the first thing I did is to check on world atlas where this country is located. This was just to get an idea where I am going to go. As I had no information about this country at all; I started my search about Ho Chi Minh City, some tourist places there (well I had no time to visit any tourist places), etc.

I bought ticket & visa and started my journey again with Singapore Airlines. Reached Singapore & took connecting flight Ho Chi Minh. Another name of this city is Saigon and still this is a popular name.

It was very hot & humid climate in Ho Chi Minh City. I reached there in afternoon and straight went to hotel. Hotel was located in very bustling area. There were lots of small shops located around my hotel. While on my way I saw many people on two wheelers than in cars. It is not rare scenario but the ratio of four wheelers and two wheelers was approximately 4 : 50. Once signal turns green and if you are on road; you feel so many ants (two wheelers) attacking you.

View from my room - not so gr8

Same day evening I met many people gathered for course from various parts of the world. I like such assignments because I get to know different people with different culture. I was happy to see 3 Indians.
After 3-4 days, we (Indians) got bore eating the tasteless vegetarian food in hotel but food in factory was comapratively good. The cook used to make some pakodas for us. I praised him for making pakodas & after that almost everyday we had some vegetable pakodas in lunch. :) I am vegetarian, so I always have to face this problem in abroad. One evening we hired a taxi and went for shopping in down town. I saw many Indian restaurant and we decided to pay visit next day for dinner. But next day was totally surprising as our host took all of us to restaurant named Tandoor. It was small cozy restaurant playing old Hindi songs. It was really great surprise.

After few days; in morning they took us to place called Cu Chi tunnel near from Ho Chi Minh City. After reaching there; they asked us to sit and listen some explanation about the tunnels. I felt it very uninteresting to listen; I was more interested to see the place. But I was totally wrong. The information they shared really moved us. Vietnamese dug the tunnels of five levels below the ground for twenty years. Some of them born and brought up in tunnel. Everyday people spent about 16 hours in digging and created about 150 sq km network. Those people actually lived in tunnels.

Way to Cu Chi Tunnel

Statues of soldiers

Trap created during war

Now for tourists they opened few tunnels, you literally have to crawl through and it’s better to follow your guide and have flash light with you as there is no light in tunnels and you may lose your way out. But it is really a fun and great experience. After crawl - walk through for1 hour, we entered a big room underground, where we had some snacks and little wine.

I must say, a Cu Chi tunnel was the most amazing place I have ever seen in my entire (small) life. This place made my Vietnam trip memorable.

On one Sunday; our host took us to amusement park, this was the first time I was visiting such amusement park or water world. Enjoyed lots of rides. In the following week, our organizers dropped us to a shopping complex in down town. Initially I exchanged my currency to Vietnamese Dong. It was bit weird that for 1 US$ I got about 16000 Vietnamese dong. It was so difficult to bargain anything when the prices start from 10000 VND. But later I understood, they accept many foreign currencies directly even I paid in dollars to cab driver. While shopping I faced no language problem as many Vietnamese people can speak Japanese language. :)

Amusement park

Amusement Park

During this trip, I had decided not to spend more money on shopping but one day I ended up buying many souvenirs but I found I just spent only US$ 10. One more thing, on that day we were been told bus going back to hotel will start from 6 pm & if we get late we have to return by cab. It was not difficult to return by cab but I & my consultant realized at 5.55pm that both of us had run out of money, so we rushed to exit of shopping complex to catch bus waiting for us. Phew… the bus was still there. Few of the friends were already waiting in bus didn’t understand why we came running to catch bus. ;) (I told them reason later)

One evening I went out on stroll around my hotel, I found many small shops selling variety of products; some shops were selling some weird things. Those shops have arranged bottles with snakes & other small animals in it. The long bottles were filled with snake and some yellowish liquid. I tried asking the shopkeeper but unfortunately I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Next day I asked a fellow in the seminar, he told me it is (yellowish liquid) a kind of medicine. He also didn’t know exact usage of that medicine. Well, I didn’t ask any more questions as I felt very uneasy, thinking someone is pouring that liquid in my mouth. Heheheeee….. (See the below photo having snakes like Cobra in bottles)

snakes in bottle

On last day; our host gifted us straw hat generally all Vietnamese wear. I saw many people working on street wearing those hats. Actually I bought one of such hat immediately after coming to Ho Chi Minh thinking that I may not get time to buy it later. Now I have two such hats with me. That was the best souvenir I bought for myself. It was bit trouble to bring them intact from Ho Chi Minh to Mumbai via Singapore but I managed very well as I had good experience of bringing such things from China. ;)

Vietnam trip was unforgettable like all other trips but Cu Chi tunnels and warm hearted Vietnamese people made it really special.

April 7, 2009

Sri Lanka (Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Galle) March 2006

After my China visit in 2005; I got chance to go to Sri Lanka in Feb 2006 & in March 2006.

I was very happy to visit this country as I didn’t have to bother about visa. Indians can travel without visa to Sri Lanka. After reaching Colombo airport, I traveled to my hotel in city.
View from Sky

Sri Lanka is very much like India; I noticed Colombo is similar to any of the South Indian cities because Srilankan language on many signboards looks very similar to south Indian languages (I have no knowledge of any of the south Indian languages). Sri Lanka is very small & poor country as compared to India but I found road were cleaner than Indian cities; hardly I saw 1 -2 beggars in the town.

Lots of Bhuddhas
Next day I went to the factory visit. After finishing the 2 days work in Colombo; we headed to the city called Nuwara Eliya. It was 5 hours journey including one break of 1 hour. Road to this place was fantastic. Road was just single lane but very well kept. We passed many small villages on the way. After a drive for about 2 hours we took halt at one small hotel near the river. This hotel, restaurant and the food was very basic but only thing I like is the ambiance. This Hotel was along side a beautiful river. I saw a person fishing in the river; many kids were enjoying swimming, a couple sitting on rock; every scene was like a portrait. After a break of one hour we continued our journey.

River View

Restaurant we halted

Very soon we were driving through range of mountains. I saw many tea gardens around. After driving for about one hour I could only see tea gardens, tea gardens & tea gardens. Tea gardens in 360 degree. I had only seen tea gardens in old Hindi movies. It was breathtaking scene. I took some photo stops (I wanted to stop at every turn). Everything was so picturesque. I felt I am on one of the most beautiful places on the earth.
Tea Garden

Tea Garden & Water Fall

I stayed in Grand Hotel which has European style building and beautiful golf course. My room in this hotel had only heater and no AC (cooler). It was very cold outside and inside the hotel; different from China; it was very soothing and not freezing.

Nuwara Eliya is a very small town and very far off from main cities like Colombo, Kandy. When I heard from people in tea factory that no one wants to have posting in this area; I was surprised. (I thought if I have been given option to stay hear forever I would have never say no.) But the reason given to me was true & practical. Beauty is not only thing required to live life. This place has no good schools, colleges, hospitals; it was only connected by road & rail to major cities. During rainy seasons it become difficult to travel by road & even by rail; as train has to pass through dense forest and mountains. Due to land slides, transportation gets cut completely for several days.

After finishing my work, I traveled back to Colombo. I was staying in Hilton hotel for two days. The view from this hotel was amazing. I was on 20th or 25th floor. You can see in the below pictures.

View from Hilton

My next trip to Sri Lanka was in March 06, immediately after the first one. This time I stayed in hotel Mount Lavinia; this hotel was a Governor’s Palace earlier. Truly beautiful; if you go to Colombo then you must stay in this hotel for one night. This is located at the outskirts of Colombo City.

During this visit I got time on weekend to travel to south of Sri Lanka. I went to see place called Hikkadua famous for coral reef & Galle has Dutch fort. On the way to Hikkadua I found fruit called Rabutan. Somewhat like Lychee but had lots of hair on the outer part and it has more water content than lychee.

Road to Hikkadua was very beautiful. In Hikkadua I saw many coral reefs just in 1-2 meter deep sea. I went to see them using glass bottom ship.

View from my room- Hikkadua

Next day I went to Galle by Rickshaw; these are same as we found in Mumbai but instead of yellow & black color those were painted in black-red, black-green and several combinations. Conditions of those Rickshaws were much better than Mumbai ones. I reached Galle in 1 hour from Hikkadua. I saw big Dutch fort, Cricket stadium, small museum having collection of lots of coins and other artifact. Many people still stay in the fort area. Lots of beautiful houses were lined up.

Road to Galle

Dutch Fort-Galle

After roaming around for about 2-3 hours; I came back to my hotel in Hikkadua. During this visit to south of Sri Lanka I noticed the sea water is blue color and very clear that you can actually see through.

Next day I packed my bags to return to airport. On my way to airport I saw the road was along side sea through out. Water was so close to the road which I didn’t notice while going to Hkkadua as I traveled in the night. Between the road and the beach / sea there were small houses. Many of them were completely destroyed by Tsunami. Some of them had reconstructed. There was terrible destruction happened due to Tsunami in south Sri Lanka. As everyone, everywhere was talking about that. Many people lost their families, homes, boats and many other things. It was the darkest part of the small beautiful country.

Road from Hikkadua to Colombo- sea was so close to road

Big Buddha Statue

My trip to Southern Sri Lanka is really memorable. I wish to go there again. In this trip I couldn’t visit Kandy famous for Bhuddha’s tooth temple. Wish to go there some other time.