Monday, June 30, 2008

Hanoi - Markets

When I visit a new place, I always like to visit the markets. That is where you can see what the locals eat, and get a glimpse into their life and culture. While in Hanoi, I visit a couple of markets, and there was quite a surprise sight. You will see what I mean !

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hanoi - Old Quarters 2

Wondering around the Old Quarters is like going back in time. You can feel the history which is still living and breathing. It feels very different from a place which has been polished and sanitized for the tourists. The French colonial influence is evident in many of the buildings.

Idaho One of the Most Affordable Travel Destinations

Idaho has been listed as one of the most affordable travel destinations. Triple A Idaho's 2008 edition of Annual Vacation Costs survey, Idaho is the 16th least expensive states to visit. Triple A Idaho's Dave Carlson calls Idaho a "cheap date", with travelers factoring in record gas prices and oustanding outdoor recreational opportunities and scenic attributs. Idaho is a "decent" travel destination right in our backyard. The survey says two adults can expect to pay just under 200 dollars a day for lodging and meals in Idaho.


High Culture and High Adventure Make Nepal a Great Travel Destination

Shangri-La of legend, novel and classic film is a real place, the Kathmandu Valley in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal. This tiny country next to Tibet is home to Mount Everest and much more. From arts and handicrafts tours to trekking and mountaineering, the Himalayan kingdom has something for every traveler.

All Nepal adventures start with the flight into Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu. Spectacular mountain views give way to green, terraced hillsides and small villages of thatched homes as the plane makes it's rapid descent. Immigration and customs clearance are easy for tourists; visas are issued automatically on arrival for $30.

Expeditions and tours start from Kathmandu, so you'll need a base and a chance to recover from the long flight. The Yak and Yeti hotel, next to the Royal Palace, is close to shopping and the old city. If the Yak and Yeti's $200 rates leave you wooly-headed, there are many options, from $2 per night guest houses to comfortable hotels for less than $100. Even if you don't stay at the Yak and Yeti, stop for an exotic drink in their lovely garden or a roll of the dice at the Casino Royale. The Raj lives on too at high tea every afternoon in the lobby.

Walk into the old city of Kathmandu along a street that was the ancient trade route from India to Tibet. The city grew up around traders' stalls lining that route, and the market is still in full swing. Fruit, flowers, spices, medicines, metal wares, silk and pashmina, incense, jewelry and more - the 2,000 year old bazaar churns with activity.

The bazaar opens into a complex of palace buildings, enormous temples, and interconnected open plazas. The old Palace Square rivals the best Venice can offer for elegance of design, baroque complexity, and majesty. But here the materials are simple brick and plaster, with elaborately carved wood. Every exposed wooden surface is carved with animals both mythical and real, flowers, religious symbols and gods and goddesses.

The house of the Kumari, Nepal's virgin goddess, faces the palace. A small girl is chosen by elaborate rituals, and Nepalis believe the king's personal goddess enters into the girl. From then until she reaches puberty she is treated as a deity. Each fall she confers on the king the right to rule for another year. In 1955 the then-Kumari dozed off during the ceremony, then blessed the crown prince by mistake when she awoke. Later that year the king died and the crown prince ascended to the throne.

North of the Palace Square, 15 minutes walk or a one-dollar rickshaw ride away, is Thamel, the trekkers and tourist neighborhood. Thamel resembles Harvard Square or The Haight, but on a dizzyingly vast scale. There are literally thousands of small shops selling handicrafts, clothing, expedition gear, music and much more. Mixed among the shops are hundreds of restaurants catering to every taste from Korean to Kosher, and scores of budget hotels and guesthouses. Darbar Marg, two blocks west is Kathmandu's High Street, a neighborhood of expensive, classy shops and hotels, including the Yak and Yeti.

In medieval times there were three great cities in the Kathmandu Valley. One of them, Bhaktapur, was mercifully spared from being "developed". It is a few miles from Kathmandu, but centuries away. Bhaktapur moves to the same rhythm it has for a thousand years. The craftsmen and farmers you will meet are doing as their families have for dozens of generations. In Bhaktapur the festivals and traditions are so old that people say the gods created them.

Pashupatinath temple complex is the holy-of-holies to Nepal's Hindus, and the destination for many Indian pilgrims. The dead are cremated here, and their ashes are cast into the holy river. Here too pilgrims cleanse their sins by bathing in the same river. The central shrine, off-limits to those who are not Hindu, has a spectacular temple with a giant golden bull kneeling in worship. The riverbanks and surrounding hills are littered with sculptures rivaling any museum's Asian art gallery.

Most visitors head out of Kathmandu for other adventures. Jungle safaris from two to four days feature elephant-back expeditions to watch wildlife, and jungle walks with naturalists. Accommodations are rustic but pleasant, with attached baths, all meals and a well-stocked bar. Older children are welcome for all activities, and one lodge has a separate facility for families with younger children, with a pool, ponies, and special activities.

Nepal is the most vertical country in the world, and the whitewater rafting is superb. There are one and two day trips and longer expeditions. Rafting companies provide all equipment and training, and professional guides. You can combine a short rafting trip with mountain biking, a bungy jump, or the new sport of canyonning, a combination of rock climbing and tubing through river gorges and pools.

Today even an armchair lover of the mountains can see them up close. Every morning the Mountain Flight takes people up for an hour of Mount Everest and the entire central Himalaya from 17,000 feet. For many it is the highlight of their trip.

Trekkers visit Nepal's countryside, a timeless world where the rhythms of life and of walking bring peace. There are dozens of routes, and programs to fit anything from a couple of days to several weeks. Trekking agencies will arrange your trek in advance; most offer group programs, but the better outfitters can make individual arrangements, even for one or two people. Trekking costs vary from $40 per day to more than $100 per day.

For those brave few who climb mountains, the Himalayas are the ultimate. But even beginners can climb a "small" 20,000 foot peak here. The great mountains are a different matter. Even though purists now scoff at the "tourist trail" to the top of Everest, it is still difficult, dangerous and all too often deadly. But with eight of the ten highest mountains in Nepal - and hundreds of peaks taller than the Rockies - there is no shortage of alternatives.

Visitors to Nepal should make arrangements in advance with a good agency, either international or Nepali, and stay informed. The US Government Department of State has information sheets for all countries, and many Nepali newspapers are available on the internet.

Kathmandu's temperature is mild, 35-60 degrees in Winter, 60-85 degrees during the long Summer. Short-term visitors need to pack only the essentials and clothing appropriate to the season. Trekkers will need warmer clothing; it is always cold at high altitudes. All clothing and supplies are available in Kathmandu.

Nepal's culture, history and the world's greatest mountains are amazing and one of the best tourism values on the planet. And Nepal's warm, hospitable people truly make it Shangri-La, the timeless land of tranquility, wisdom, and peace.


Hanoi - Old Quarters

I made a trip to Hanoi in March 2007. Before the trip I had done a lot of research, but mainly on the places of interest and most importantly, the places for food. One thing I forgot to check was the weather. When we arrived, it was Winter and quite cold. We had only brought the typical tropical travel wear, so the first stop was to get a jacket.

We stayed in a boutique hotel right in the centre of the Old Quarters. Hanoi is one of the cities which seems to exist in a time warp, it hasn't seen the rapid modernization of most of the Asian cities - but that will come soon enough. SO this is the best time to visit, before it is all erased by globalization.

The most interesting part of Hanoi is the Old Quarters. This historical part of the city has a history of over 2,000 years. The streets are organized according to the different trades, so you have Silver Street, Paper Street, Silk Street and so on. Many of the old crafts are still around, but they are slowly being replaced by boutiques, back-packers inns, and cafes.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Singapore at Night

I came accross some cool night scenes in Singapore. Didn't have my SLR with me, so this was the best I could do.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canele Singapore

I was in Singapore recently for a conference, and took the opportunity to explore the culinary scene. Canele is one of the new crop of outlets where dessert is the star. This one is located in the basement of Raffles City. They also serve other courses, but you go there mainly for the confections. I tried the chocolate macaroons and hazelnet praline macaroons. They were delicous.

There were many other sweet temptations !

The Original Carwash - Kuching

Taking a break from Bali, now we are back in Kuching. This place is an interesting concept - a two-in-one carwash and cafe. You can have your car washed while having a bite to eat, or vice versa. The food is mainly Thai, you get the usual Pad Thai, salads, etc. My favoutite dish here is the Kui Teau Rad Na, fried flat rice noodles in gravy with chicken, vegies, and prawns. It is a generous portion, and the rice noodles are served in cripsed layers above the sauce. I like to eat the rice noodles on its own before tucking into the rest.

The cafe also serve other stuff like this pasta, but its best to stick with the Thai food.

The sticky rice with fresh mango was quite good.

The interior of the cafe is very nicely done.

You can watch your car being washed while having your meal.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rhodes Voted Top Destination In Europe

Rhodes is the only short haul destination in the top ten of the 2008 Traveller’s Choice Destinations Awards, winning the accolade for highlights ranging from the largest inhabited Medieval town in Europe, located in the island’s capital, to more rural attractions such as the Valley of the Butterflies. One of the tourist hotspots is Lindos, a beautiful town with a beach overlooked by an ancient castle.

The type of property available on the island is hugely varied, ranging from modern apartments in more touristy areas to traditional villas in the smaller villages and towns. Property in Lindos is among the more expensive on Rhodes, but rental returns are also likely to be higher here than in other areas.

However, when compared to other European countries, prices still seem low. According to the Buy Association a small newly-built apartment in the area can be found for under £70,000, while a two-bedroom detached villa on a small development of 20 houses will cost around £150,000 off-plan.

Meanwhile, a one-bedroom apartment on the island rents out for an average of £256 per week, making Rhodes the perfect place to buy a holiday home to let.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bali - Here & There 2

Some more random pictures.


Eating in Bali - Ary's Warung, Ubud

While wondering around Ubud, I chanced upon this popular cafe - Ary's Warung. I stopped for a thirst-quencher and dessert. Had a coconut ice-cream with banana cupcake.


Eating in Bali - Ibu Oka, Ubud

The most famous dish in Bali is Babi Guling - literrally roast pig, and Ibu Oka in Ubud is an institution. It is so popular, most of the time you can't find a place to sit and have to wait.

It is worth the wait ! The roast pig is really great. Marinated with spices and coconut milk in the stomach, the meat is juicy, tender and very flavourful. And the most important part - the skin, is crispy and not too oily. Eaten with rice and the accompanying chilli sauce, this is one of the best meals you could ever have. Provided you are a pork lover, of course !

This was a whole pig when we went there. This was what's left after about half an hour.


Palace on Wheels – The Gem of the Rajasthan Train Tours

When it comes to Rajasthan Train Tours, Palace on Wheels features the very best that India offers. Embark on a journey back in time, of peacefulness, tranquility, adventure, culture, cuisine... an unforgettable sojourn, all made possible for you on this superb luxury train.

Since its beginning in 1982, the guests of the Palace on Wheels have received service above the ordinary with an experience which was unashamedly romantic and adventurous. To this day the travelers expect nothing less. This is a journey which should only be embarked upon with the highest of expectations. The train provides an opportunity to explore the centuries, to appreciate the history and culture of Rajasthan without missing the features and details of the passing landscapes and enjoying all the on board comfort and state-of-the-art facilities one could ask for.

Rajasthan is one of the most vibrant and historically and culturally rich states of India. The history of Rajasthan is all bravery and chivalry of the Rajputs. Their tales of gallantry and valor are part and parcel of the Rajasthan culture. Their passion for buildings and architecture is manifest in the myriad of magnificent palaces, forts, havelis and temples that speak volumes about history and heritage of the state.

The Palace on Wheels is an effortless way to experience Rajasthan at its best. The spectacle of Rajasthan's great wilderness will take your breath away. This Rajasthan Train Tour is truly worthy of kings, not surprising the experience is labeled as the Palace on Wheels. In a series of trips, the train links some of Rajasthan's greatest destinations including Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Bharatpur and Agra, before culminating the journey to New Delhi. The itinerary covers the very best attractions of North India from Jaisalmer at the tip of Rajasthan to the pink city Jaipur, from scenic splendors as diverse as the bird sanctuary of Bharatpur to the sleepy villages of Jodhpur, from the desert landscapes of Chittorgarh to sparkling lakes of Udaipur and the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra. During your cruise you will experience the fascinating history and spectacular scenery, exotic wildlife, the beautiful heritage havelis, palaces and forts, desert villages and rippling sand dunes.

The train combines the luxury of five star hotel with the charm of train travel. The Maharaja and Maharani dining cars receive only accolades for their connoisseur selection of Rajasthan cuisines. The food served during the sojourn puts sheer good taste on a plate while gracious hospitality puts you on a pedestal. With 14 coaches named after former Rajput princely states, with spacious cabins, the passengers on board the Palace of Wheels have plenty of space, time and encouragement to do as they please. One can enjoy the company of others, recline idly with a favorite book or simply watch through the window which unfolds new vistas of passing beauty.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Visit Bangladesh : See the enchanting beauties of nature

Bangladesh, land of enchanting beauty, is endowed with almost all the natural potentials to attract tourists. All her six seasons vibrate with fairs, festivals, mirth and merriment. All riverine beauty, colourful tribal life and simple village life of the friendly millions are main motivational factors for the potential visitors.

Though one of the world's small countries, Bangladesh boasts of certain world class attractions and assets. Bangladesh offer ample opportunity to tourists for rowing, angling, jungle trekking, sun and sea-bathing and above all to be in and amidst the pristine nature. Bangladesh is heir to rich cultural legacy.

In 2000 or more years of its chequered history, many illustrious dynasties of kings and Sultans have ruled and disappeared and left their mark in the shape of magnificent cities, monuments, the desolate ruins which are still visible in places throughout the country. The archaelogolical treasures of Mahasthangarh, Pahapur Buddhist Vihara, a world heritage site and Salbana Vihara at Mainamati and sixty-domed grand mosque at Bagerhat, also a world heritage site, World War-ÐÐ cemetery at Comilla, Kantaji's temple of Dinajpur, the Hindu temples of Chandranath at Sitakund, Adinath at Mahashkhali, Sonargaon and Dhakeshwari in Dhaka bear testimony to its devotional past.

Most outstanding places in Bangladesh also include Cox's Bazar Beach, Dhaka, Kaptai, Chandanpura mosque, Kuakata, Rangamati Lake, tribal life, Sylhet Tea Garden and wildlife of Sundarbans. Other places of tourist attractions are Shilaidaha Kuthibari(Kushtia, a memory place of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore), Sagordari in Jessore, Mujibnagar memorial, Gandhi Asram, Jamuna Bridge, Trishal and Sri Chaitanya Temple.

Above all, simple and friendly people of Bangladesh along with its tribes isolated from modern society by their own distinct culture and way of life make Bangladesh a distinguished and unique attraction for tourists. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), national tourism organization of the country, has renovated the existing tourist facilities and created new facilities at important tourist spots.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Eating in Bali - Casa Luna, Sanur

Bali is not exactly famous for it's cuisine. The last few times I visited,I had been disappointed with the food. The most famous food estblishment in Bali is Made's Warung in Kuta, which serves Western Cafe Food. This trip however we stumbled upon a little place in Sanur which is great.

The restaurant is called Casa Luna, and it serves traditional Balinese food. I had the roast duck in spices, which was really good. The meat was tender and really well seasoned by the spices. I would go back just for that !

This is the pork curry served with condiments. The skewers are seafood skewers, kind of like satays.  Tasty !

A view of the restaurant from the road.