Serendipity in Sydney! 12 PLACES TO SEE IN SYDNEY.

It was time to enter a different continent, after covering the Asian, European & American ones. I expected it to be a different ballgame, not knowing what to expect. But it aced my expectations. I was in dreamy Sydney, one of the biggest & picturesque cities in Australia.

When you think about a fully developed city, what all comes to your mind? Skyscrapers, high-end stores, bars, cafes & busy streets laden with locals trying to reach their next destination.

But Sydney broke the stereotype. I have never seen a city so relaxed, calm, composed & easy-going. The vibe is infectious. I could tell you 10 different things to do, inside the city. But nah, let’s look at 12 different experiences, Sydney has to offer.

One of the easy-going streets of Sydney.
  1. Walk on the Darling Harbour Bridge: So, there are two ways to do it. Either you could climb the harbour bridge (with a harness that would cost you about 175 AUD). Or, you could simply walk on the bridge. For free.

The closest train station to the bridge is Milson Point. Once you get down at the station, cross-over & start walking on the bridge.

There’s a special path for pedestrians, so it is completely safe.

Picture this: Opera House surrounded by water on all sides to your left.  And fast-paced cars & skyscrapers on your right. It was a walk to remember.

That’s the pathway, for the pedestrians.
Can you spot the Opera House? This was the view on the left-hand side of the bridge.

PS: when in Sydney, make public transport your best friend. The metro connectivity, as well as the bus routes, are superb.

2. Circular Quay/ Opera House: What’s the point of even travelling in Australia, if you haven’t seen the Opera House?

The area where Opera House is located is known as the Circular Quay. It’s the liveliest & the most beautiful set-up I have witnessed.

Just before the Opera house, you will see a series of open-air bars & restaurants offering the view of the Harbour Bridge & Opera House. I was riding high on plain good vibes!

Ya, feel me? How dope is this?
And we were all set for the evening.
The Harbour Bridge, from the other side.

PS: I did see Opera House- up, close and personal. However, the enigma of it lies from watching it from a distance.

3. Darling Harbour area: this is the place to be if you want to let your hair down. Right by the river, it has one of the most happening clubs & bars of Sydney. All you have to do is pay the entry cover charge, and dance through the night.

This is where the nightlife of Sydney, comes alive!

Note: Make sure you grab your dinner before 11 PM on weekends & by 9 PM on weekdays. Even in a massive city like Sydney, the kitchen closes early. Took a while for a Mumbaikar (like me) to digest this. But well, that’s how it rolls.

PS: the view at night, of the river basking under the reflection of the lights oozing out of those tall buildings, is mesmerising.

4. Star Casino: this is a literal heaven for people who love to gamble. This casino is open 24×7 & it is huge! It’s almost like the casinos you might see in an Oceans 11 movie. Make sure to clean up good, when you visit the casino.

The only photo, I managed to click inside the casino. Since we’re not allowed to click pictures.

PS: I did win a little something, felt like a small toddler, getting her hands on a chocolate bar for the first time!

5. Lindt cafe & Hyde Park: this area is basically called CBD (Central Business District) of Sydney.

How the streets of CBD area, looks like.

While strolling aimlessly around the streets, I chanced upon Lindt cafe. Now, if you’re a chocolate lover like me, this cafe is bound to make you go bonkers.

From the inside.

I had the most delectable chocolate shake made on earth, EVER. Make sure to not miss it, for the chocolate gods will not forgive you.

I rest my case. The left one was my drink BTW.

Now, if you’re a Bollywood buff (just like me), you’re bound to be a fan of the iconic movie- Dil Chahta Hai. Or for that matter Heyy Baby or Bachna Ae Haseeno, Hyde Park is where you can go and re-live your Bollywood fantasies. All of these movies have been shot here, at some point or another.

This park is Australia’s answer to America’s Central Park.

If this isn’t a good enough reason, just go there for a stroll. The tree laden paths & the elephantine size of the park will give you enough reasons to visit.

PS: this is where the Mardi Gras parade, Sydney happened, and I was so fortunate to witness it! The city had come to life. People on the streets were singing, drinking, dancing and having a good time. Oh man, what a time to be alive.

Everything about that night was a bit hazy. But look at the vibe of this capture. You’ll get the drift.
Yep, those were some bad-ass lady cops, handling the crowd during Mardi Gras. On a horse.

6. Hunter Valley: for all those who want to explore beyond the city, venture a little outside, to get the Aussie experience. Basically, Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s major wine regions! Imagine my delight, when I figured, this place is just a 90 minutes drive from Sydney CBD.

Hello Hunter Valley.

 Make sure you reach bright early in the morning, so you can hop-skip-jump vineyards. All the vineyards were so beautiful, especially the one at Roche Estate.

Hello from my happy place.

PS: these vineyards shut by 4 PM, so hurry up! Surprisingly, the Rose wines were delicious.

This is where I tasted, some of Australia’s finest wines.

7. New Castle: what do the city dwellers of Sydney do, when they want to get away from the hustle-bustle of the city? They visit New Castle, duh! It’s a small little town (about 3.5 hours away), but it whisked my heart away.

En-route New Castle.
New Castle beach.

I discerned the most beautiful sunset while sitting on the beach. Since many people may not take the efforts to travel all the way from Sydney to New Castle, it’s relatively empty and spaced out. I had fallen in love & never wanted to go back.

Peace and serenity.

PS: again, everything shuts by 8 PM (at the most), so make sure you have your drinks & dinner beforehand.

Also, New Castle is known for its ocean baths. It’s right next to the beach. Go and experience this bath. For it gives you an ‘infinity pool’ kinda vibe.

The ocean bath.

8. Bondi to Coogee coastal walk: we’re all aware of The Bondi Beach. It’s one of Aussie’s finest beaches as well as around the globe. You could reach the beach directly by either bus or train. But then, what’s the fun in that?

For someone who loves to walk, a coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi beach excited me beyond my wits.

Beginning of the coastal walk, from Coogee Beach.

Why?

Because it’s a  beautiful walk. A walk that features stunning views, beaches, cliffs, bays, rock pools & cafes to rest it out. What more could a humble traveller ask for?

Just another beautiful spot, in between the coastal walk.
Between Coogee & Clovelly beach.

You start at Coogee beach, and en-route you’ll come across Clovelly beach, Bronte beach. Tamarama beach, before you reach Bondi.

Another pit-stop, before reaching Bronte Beach.

PS: there’s a charming cemetery, which comes in between the coastal walk, make sure you stroll around it. I know it sounds strange, but it is very alluring.

Choose. What’s prettier? The ocean on the right or the cemetery on the left side?

Icebergs Dining room: the setting of this place is in such a way, it feels like you’re being rewarded to finish the 6km coastal walk. This restaurant is situated exactly where the coastal walk ends. Make sure you grab a chilled beer over here, before hitting the beach.

Well well.
A small little celebration, after a 6 km walk.
Bondi Beach. Eat. Beach. Sleep. Repeat.

9. Stanwell Tops/Bald Hill Lookout: another short getaway from the city of Sydney, is the Bald Hill Lookout. Barely a 60 minutes drive, this spot takes you on top of a mountain cliff. The view is worth the efforts. It’s quite windy and you will not find a lot of tourists around here.

I could sit here, forever.

So, take advantage of it. It’s the perfect place to get your solitude.

10. Sea-cliff Bridge: this bridge is just 10 minutes away (by car) from the Bald Hill Lookout, but it has been the most fulfilling 10 minutes of the entire trip. The drive is heavenly, with the ocean to give you company.

The view from the Sea-cliff bridge.

 They’ve also made a pathway for pedestrians to walk over the sea-cliff bridge. I did both. It was an astounding affair, which I still lust after.

The endless walk, along the sea.

11. The Scarborough Hotel: now this is what I am truly proud to share with you guys. It’s a hotel, I discovered accidentally while driving around, hunting for food (post the sea-cliff drive).

 Well, it looked quite ordinary at the entrance, but OH MY GOD. I skipped a beat. I actually fulfilled my wish of eating a cake, by the ocean (the Pacific Ocean, to be precise) This hotel is right by the water, with the most awe-inspiring view.

Cake, coffee and the ocean.

I’ll let the capture do the talking.

This set-up was everything.

PS: you may not wanna go to Bald Hill Lookout or the Sea Cliff Bridge? But take those extra efforts & visit this hotel.

12. Stanwell beach: I would never leave Australia, without one last visit to its serene beaches. This was my third beach in New South Wales province, and it surely was a beach to remember. Again, not so touristic. Leaving me to myself,  while I stroll around the empty beach & the waves crashing with my inner thoughts.

Stanwell Beach. It was about to drizzle though,
It’s just me, myself and I.

 I have left yet another piece of my heart in Sydney with a promise to come back, as I am yet to explore the entire country!  Here’s hoping, that my experiences help you fall in love with Sydney too.

Till then, where to next?

Precious Paro..!

I know, it took me awhile to get around to writing my second phase of the trip. But, here I am!

After my adventurous four days in Thimphu, it was time to move over to another beautiful city – Paro. Now mind you, I did not just use ‘beautiful’ to throw in some adjective. Paro, is an epitome of beauty.

I’d say the crown jewel of Bhutan.

How to get there?

There are 2 ways to reach, either head to Paro from Pheuntsholing directly (3.5 hours) or you could go from Thimphu (took this route). The fastest way would be to go via cab (2 hours), however I used the local bus and reached Paro in a meagre INR 130. Needless to say, the views on the way were jaw-drop worthy.

Interesting anecdote:  we headed to Paro with no accommodation arrangements. Thought we will figure it out on our way in the bus. Well we did, and it turned out to be a not so pleasant experience (the owner was trying to dupe us, knowing we’re 2 lone girls backpacking).

But then every dark story has a silver lining eh? We called up our friend from Thimphu (the hotel we stayed at), and he immediately hooked us up with another accommodation in Paro.

It was a blessing in disguise. We lived in a home-stay sort of an arrangement, a little far from the main town but it was a masterpiece. Our caretaker (I still remember his name), Kinley was the kindest man on planet earth.

View adjacent to my home-stay, while I casually pose.

He pacified us, comforted us with some warm tea and made arrangements for us to go and explore the city.

PS: I could directly jump and tell you the places to see in Paro. But I believe experiences like these are what make a trip worth remembering. This man Kinley, reinstated my belief in Bhutanese people and the kindness they are known for.

Moving on, my main aim to travel to Paro was to witness the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s hill) Monastery. It’s been on the top of my bucket list.

Day 1: taking into consideration of the way my stint in Paro began, my friend and I directly headed to the city centre to grab some Datshi (the traditional sabzi I spoke about?).

The city centre is pretty small, concise and cute. I would advice to cover it on foot, and for those who love shopping local artefacts, this is a paradise.

Rinpung Dzong: a visit to any city in Bhutan is incomplete without a peek-a-boo in the dzongs. Kinley dropped us at its entrance.

Yet again, we were enchanted by its beauty.

The enchanting Dzong
Hey you, whatcha looking at?

Although, what followed after that was a treat to my sore eyes. The dzong is a little far away from the main city, over a hill. This was right outside the entrance. All I had to do was, look around, and, Viola!

My happiness level had hit the rooftop. I fell in love with Paro. I mean, it looks like a painting!!

Post the Dzong visit, we decided to walk back to the city centre. It was a good 30 mins walk, but damn son. It was mind-boggling! Seeing two tourists walk on a lonely street, we were offered to be dropped to our location. But we declined the invitations. Wanted the feel of the streets, on foot.

PS: we were used to such generosity/random help  showered on us by now. It seemed normal.

Café hopping: there’s a series of cafes one after another. They all shut by 8PM (at the max). Make sure you chill in one of these cafes. They’re quite adorable. Mountaineers café serves some enticing vegetarian options, and don’t forget to try the ‘butter tea’.

Day 2: it was Show Time! The most anticipated day of the trip had arrived. We had breakfast in a jiffy, and immediately left to reach the base of Tiger’s Nest. It’s far from the main city and tourists are advised to start their trek early in the morning, as it’s a long one.

Adult: entry fee of INR 600

College students: entry fee of INR 300.  Since we passed off as college students, well I paid 300 INR :).

PS: you could either start the climb with a guide or you can go on your own too. We started the ascend on our own. It’s quite easy, the directions are given and the sign boards are hard to miss out (also saved some money that ways).

The excitement, when you start the trek! Also, don’t judge me, the fashion game isn’t on point. Did I care? Hell nah!

We met a lot of travellers on our way, but 2 groups left a serious impact on me.

A 60+ American couple: for someone to have crossed 60, their fitness levels were bewildering. Total couple goals I’d say.

An Indian family: the family consisted of the mother, her daughter, her nani and the son. They had undertaken a road-trip and drove all the way to Bhutan from North East India (Sikkim) till Paro. Their satisfaction with life and the camaraderie was endearing to watch.

Few of the folks, we met along the way. Apologies for the blurry capture. My phone had become dusty & moisty. #trekthings

And just like that, we reached Tiger’s Nest after a 2.5 hour ascend. I was rendered speechless, when I caught the first glance of the monastery.  You’ll realise, that the body-breaking trek was worth it.

Standing tall, in all its glory.

There’s a cafe tucked away in the middle of the mountains, in case need to rest or eat before climbing again. The drawback? It’s super expensive, hence, advisable to carry your own water and some munchies.

One needs to deposit all the belongings (esp phones) before entering the monastery. It’s one of the largest and the most beautiful temples I’ve seen in Bhutan. However, it does not beat the sheer joy of spotting the Tiger’s nest from afar, while climbing.

Up, close and personal.

Completing the trek was one of the proudest moments of my life. Soon, we started the descend and as soon as I reached my hotel. I ravished the datshi as if I have never seen food before. My most fulfilling meal. In the evening, we ventured out to one of the cafes again followed by dinner with some Bhutanese locals.

PS: people in Paro know how to party (on selected days).  Wednesday is a ladies night and every Friday & Saturday the karaoke bars are open and in full swing. So, maybe you could pick your days to visit this city, according to your mood.

Right behind the Dzong. It was so peaceful!

I left for Phuentsholing the next day by local bus. It was time to go back to Mother India.

Whenever I’ve travelled to a new country and my trip is about to end, I feel a sense of foreboding. But leaving Bhutan tore me apart. I literally did not want to go back to India. And I know, within the next 10 years, I will be back in Bhutan.

Till then, let’s keep travelling.

PS: One can also visit the Chehe La Pass which is located at 3810m (13,000ft), between the valley of Paro and Haa, the highest road pass in the country. It’s almost 2.5 hours away from Paro, and a very popular passage. You could either drive down there or hike your way through.

I couldn’t cover it, due to lack of time and money. Saving it for my next visit to Bhutan though.

Ciao for now!

Terrific Thimphu!

This country is the closest to my heart. It’s where I started backpacking. Bhutan taught me how it is 100% OK to not have an itinerary and just take each day as it comes.

Also, it’s a country laden with the most majestic mountains ever seen. It did not take me even 30 seconds to completely & irrevocably fall in love with Bhutan.

Let’s start with ‘How to get there’?

I booked my tickets to Bagdogra (Siliguri, India), the day I decided to go and boarded my flight the next day. You see, I was slated to go to Bali, but as luck would have it. A volcanic eruption was looming on the Balinese soil and had to cancel that trip.

Not the one to be bogged down, I glided my way into Bhutan. And it’s been my best decision, till date.

Stop 1: Bagdogra.

After landing in Bagdogra, I took a cab to reach till Jaigaon (4 hour drive). Now there’s a catch, Jaigaon touches the Bhutan gate. And just on the other side of the gate, there’s Phuentsholing, the border town in southern Bhutan.

It’s unreal, if you may ask! Since the gate is standing tall, on an everyday busy street, casually.

Since Bhutan has visa on arrivals or also known as visit permits, you need to get your permit from Phuentsholing to enter Thimphu/Paro. I would advise to get your permit online, in advance.

Once you reach Paro/Thimphu, you need to get your permits for every other city you want to go to (Punakha, Bhumthang etc) from the respective permit offices.

You can sense the difference, just by a mere gate. Jaigaon is filthy, dirty, crowded and rowdy. But as soon as I crossed the gate, there was discipline, cleanliness and kindness in the air.

The visa permit office is open, till 3PM; hence you need get your permits before that, or then wait until next day & go through the process again. Since, I reached Jaigaon by 8PM, had to stay back until the next day.

Traveler’s tip: If you’re a female solo traveler, or just a group of girls traveling, don’t stay back in Jaigaon. Cross the gate and stay for the night in Phuentsholing until you get your permits.

The hotel rent is comparatively higher than Jaigaon, but it’s safer.

After successfully acquiring my permits, commenced on my journey to Thimphu. I shared my ride with 2 very beautiful women from Nagaland, India. The journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu (approx 4 hours) was nothing less than captivating.

Thimphu city centre, at night.

I stayed at Hotel Ghasel (3 star hotel in the city center). This place needs a special shout-out. One of the most helpful hotel owners I’ve come across. He told us all about Bhutan, its history, the culture, unexplored places. Even helped, find a stay in Paro (my next destination).

In fact, we got the chance to hang out with a Bhutanese official from the Parliament. How cool is that! Chilling with a Bhutanese minister. These moments is what makes travel worthwhile. Always.

Yep, that’s happy me, with some Bhutanese officials!

Here’s a list of 10 must-do things in the capital city, Thimphu:

  1. Tashiccho Dzong: It was my first time, inside a Dzong. Also known as monastery, a distinctive fortress that can be found in almost all the cities of Bhutan. And yet, every Dzong has its own peculiarity.

What’s so special about this one?

a. It houses the throne room and the offices of the present king (Namgyel Wangchuck).

b. It also hosts one of the biggest Tshechu festival, every year. (Have elaborated about it in my latter points).

The ever so crowded Tashichho Dzong. This is just 1 tiny side of the Dzong.
Simply loved the carvings on these.
And of course, the people.

Interesting fact: unlike other countries that love their democracy, the citizens of Bhutan feel otherwise. They love their king so much, that they aren’t comfortable with the voting system. Astonishing right?

In fact, they speak so highly of their king that their devotion is infectious.

So, don’t be surprised, if you see huge photo frames of the king, queen &  the prince (they look adorable btw) in every local’s house/café/restaurant/office/bank etc. it’s out of  sheer love & respect.

2. Buddha Dordenma: this is one of the most iconic Buddha statues in Bhutan. It is peaceful, & massive. The sight is unforgettable.

So, I wasn’t exaggerating after all 🙂
How beautiful is this view? Gaadammit.

3. The shopping street: the main street of Thimphu city has innumerable stores that you can shop from. Mind you, do not underestimate the fashion quotient of Bhutanese people. The women are so beautiful, I couldn’t staring.

Traveller’s tip: entire Bhutan, does NOT have traffic signals. Yeah, people drive cars with utter discipline and zero honking. Go figure!

Just a random street in Thimphu. Don’t miss the mountains casually present in the background.

There are 2 types of attire:

a. Traditional attire: everyone needs to wear the national dresses Gho (for men) and Kira (for women) while they are working for any government offices.

Gho (for men) is a knee length robe-like cloth adorned with a belt & worn with knee length socks.

Kira is worn by women, which is an apron like dress.

Trust me; it’s one of the most beautiful national attires I have ever seen. (Ranges between 2.5k-3K)

The traditional Kira.

These attires were made compulsory and introduced in order to inculcate a sense of community and national pride from within.

If you’re in the mood to wear it, just rent it for a day. (To save money on purchasing)

b. Western attire: just like everyone else around the globe does. And lo behold, they are quite trendy.

4. Mojo park: This is one of the happening bars of Thimphu. Mostly, they have a live band performing at night. While Mojo Park is well known, there are a lot of local bars at every corner of the street.

One of the bands playing at Mojo Park.

Traveller’s tip: Bhutanese people love karaoke. Especially serenading to Bollywood songs. Make sure you get that experience.

5. Tshechu festival: it’s religious festival that happens in almost all the districts. But the biggest one happens in Thimphu (Tashichho Dzong) & Paro Dzong. The focal point of this festival is the traditional ‘Cham’ dances. There are elaborate costumes, masks, swords and the works. I felt like I was transported in the Samurai era.

Holy Moses. Will never forget this sight.
The traditional dances.

While the Dzong has the traditional prayers and performances happening, the entire street of Thimphu comes alive. There are various stalls of clothes, accessories, food put up for those 3 days.

Entire Thimphu was out on the streets. It felt more like a flea market.

It’s something you should definitely experience. I was blessed to witness it.

6. The Tango monastery: a little far from the main city, it’s situated on a hill-top. As it’s rightly said:  No Pain, No Gain. The climb was tough, but it was surreal. You could club this with Cherri monastery. But that’s tougher to climb.

On-route.
Inside the monastery.

7. Docula pass: this is the place where I saw clouds. Literally. Also, you get the mind-numbing view of the Himalayas. It was so chilly, but it had me glued to the ground. It has around 108 memorial stupas.

This photo is as it is. Did not require any touch-ups.
Failed pose attempts. Right behind me, are the Stupas.

This comes on your way to Punakha. (Small city in Bhutan)

8. Punakha dzong: technically, the city of Punakha is known for its Dzong.

What’s so special?

It’s built by/overlooking the beautiful river. If I have to be a little biased? This was my most favourite Dzong in the entire country.  Also, the woodwork and the architecture are splendid.

It was drizzling while I visited, so that gave a mesmerising effect.

Punakha Dzong, by the river.
Inside the Dzong.
Yeah, I believe there was a school outing happening at that time.

Traveller’s tip: you could get hire a car for a round trip to Punakha (3.5k approx). It covers the Docula pass, Dzong, Suspension bridge & the little town of Chimi Lhakhang.

9. Suspension bridge: by time I got the chance to visit the Suspension bridge, it started to rain heavily. Since I detest rains, I contemplated, if I should go or no. The roads got murkier. But since I suffer from solid FOMO, I pushed myself.

Splendid.

God dammit, it was the best decision.

Traveller’s tip: if you love camping, Punakha is a great place to camp under the moon lit sky.

10. Chimi Lhakhang: oh the abundant penises I saw. Yeah, you read that right. This small little town in the Punakha district is known for its Fertility Temple. Legend has it, if you’re trying to conceive, you should come here to seek blessings.

Just outside the  Chimi Lhakhang temple.
Outside the temple.

Drupka Kenly, the yogi (of Chimi Lhakhang), was the one that actively encouraged the use of phallus symbols (penis) in paintings and carvings in the monastery. You will see a couple of souvenir shops selling phallus key chains and stuff.  (Quite expensive though).

Let’s play a game. Spot the ‘phallus’!

 

Traveller’s tip: don’t be shocked when you see a lot of ‘phallus’ painted on every wall of the house. It’s considered sacred.

Boy, do I love Bhutan! I have so many more stories to share of this amazing country. Like always, it will have to wait until next time.

Ciao for now!

Majestic Mc LeodGanj!

It was my first time in Himachal, and I was psyched. Picture this: Mountains –  chilly air – mouth watering momos – breath taking views.
My liaison with Mc LeodGanj lasted for about 3 days, and it left me lusting after, ever since. If you’re on a limited budget for a short period of time (like moi). Here’s a list of 10 must-do places:

1. Illiterati Books and Coffee: I am a sucker for the mountains and a good read. What happens when you can combine both of it together? MAGIC. It’s a little far from the main market, but for a reason.
a. Lesser crowd.
b. Eerily calm.
c. Delectable food.
It’s a literary heaven! You have books stacked up in all kinds of genres. Not to mention, they serve Himachali, French and Mediterranean cuisine. A perfect abode for breakfast or an undisturbed lunch. For me, it was love at first sight.

See this? It’s love, every time I see this view.
A bibliophile paradise.
Coffee, anyone?

2. Shiva café & Bhagsu Waterfalls: Pahadi cafes are the ‘shizz’. What’s so special about this one? It’s a cult cafe, amidst this small little hamlet.

Which gets me to my next point: this cafe involves a small hike (yay!). While you have stairs that paves its way to the cafe, it’s still a decent climb. On my way, I outwardly visited the Bhagsu waterfalls. But it was so crowded; immediately retreated and continued my climb.

A little out of breath, the view was so gob smacking, I almost skipped a heartbeat.

Still think I am exaggerating?

The trippy set up, soothing music in the background coupled with praise worthy food, almost took me closer to nirvana.

Boom Shankar 🙂

3. Kangra fort: It’s located some 20 odd km in the outskirts of Dharamshala. If you’re a fan of all things rustic, royalty and serenity, head to this almost 400 year old fort. Entry Fee: 150 INR.
Needless to say, the sight it offers is phenomenal, especially during the sunsets.

PS: it also has a fully functional temple, inside the fort.

Kitna Khoobsurat!

4. Dharamshala Paragliding: How can you pass on an opportunity to fly over the Dhauladhar ranges and miss a mind-numbing spectacular landscape?

You need to book your slot in advance, at least 2 days prior. Especially during the peak season. Price: 1500 INR per person for 15 minutes.

Need not worry; you will have a professional glider by your side, while you take the plunge.

Can you spot me? That little birdy in the sky.
Of course, I was beyond ecstatic.

Traveller’s Tip: if you don’t mind going the extra mile to satiate your adventure thirst, head to Bir Billing!

Why Bir? It features on the top 10 destinations for paragliding in the entire world, must be something worth going, right?
Price: 2500 INR per person for a 15-30 minute flight.

5. Dharamshala Cricket Stadium: I believe, underlining the importance of this stadium wouldn’t be necessary. In a country, where cricket is a religion (well almost).

Not a huge fan of cricket, and have seen a couple of stadiums (football & cricket). But, nothing even closely matches its beauty. Surrounded by snow clad mountains on at least 3 sides, it makes for an exquisite sight.

I’ll let the picture do the talking.

6. Tea Garden: most of the travellers give this place a miss, since it is a small tea garden. But I’d urge you to go. Only to soak in the scenic view, tranquillity and spend a couple of hours amongst a quiet aura. Visiting period: 10 AM-5 PM.

Oh mighty my!

7. Naddi Hills: A lot of travellers either reside in Mc Leodganj or Naddi Hills. The latter one is for someone yearning to live in between the mountains and away from the commercial chaos of Mc Leodganj. Either ways, head to this place to witness a sunset, you may never forget.

Look at those beautiful hues in the sky.
Sllluurrrppp!

Traveller’s tip: you could zip-line your way through the hills (one of the adventure activities that happens in Naddi Hills).

8. Namgyal Monastery: your trip is incomplete without visiting the monastery. It was Tibet’s spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s home, for the longest time. I was so stumped by the architecture and the calmness it bought to me. Made me forget about every trivial issue, that I had been worried about.

Almost speechless & mesmerised by its beauty, I completely skipped clicking pictures. An enriching experience, by all means.

9. John in the wilderness Church: my most favourite place! I love churches and the vibes they carry with them. This church is right in the middle of a forest, surrounded by tall pine trees. That entire set-up & location is very raw and awe-inspiring.

Standing tall, in all its glory.
The beautiful pathway.

10. Places to eat: there are numerous cafes and restaurants in every nook and corner, but three restaurants stood out for me.

a. Tibet Kitchen: had a scrumptious meal in this small little eatery. Right from devouring the Bhutanese Datshi to momos & thupkas, it was everything that a foodie can ask for.

It’s in the main market & a little hard to find. So make sure you ask the locals for directions.

b. Jimmy’s kitchen: serves Italian cuisine and it’s finger lickin’ good. An idyllic place for dinner with your homies.

https://www.zomato.com/dharamshala/jimmys-italian-kitchen-mcleodganj

c. Green restaurant: suitable to grab a healthy breakfast with a pretty view of the mountains. Though I had a heavenly carrot cake over here. Needless to say, a good pick if you want to relish something sweet.

PS: it also has its own hotel named ‘Green Hotel’, perfect for a budget stay. I resided there for 3 days.

Commute: Mumbai to Amritsar by air. Road trip from Amritsar to Mc Leodganj by car.

Duration of the road trip: 4-5 hours.

Additional places that can be covered:
a. Triund trek: it’s an overnight trek. You’re sure to catch some snow once you reach the mountain peak. Camping on top of Triund is magical.
b. Bir Billing: couldn’t get the slots, since it was overbooked. However, if you get the chance, grab it! It’s a 3 hour drive from Mc Leodganj.
c. Shop in the markets of Mc Leodganj: It’s a paradise for all kinds of shoppers, that too at a reasonable cost.

Months to visit: all year round, except the monsoon season (between June- September).
Traveller’s tip: it’s easier to move around, if you have your own vehicle (car/bike).

Here’s to wishing that this list will help you sum up your short trip to Dharamshala, and make you fall in love with it.

This was at 5.30 AM in the morning. Ciao for now!

Boisterous Bangkok!

It was time. I was almost on the last leg of my trip. Just the thought of it stings man. So, I got my shit together and braced myself for Bangkok! My homies and I, we totally were going to be the ‘Hangover’ crew. (or thought so, at least).

En-route

Most of the backpackers dwell near Khaosan Road and we were no exception.  Reached our hostel via bus (available at the airport itself and obviously cheaper than a cab).

As soon as we reached, we directly hit the streets!  Time was of the essence, my friend.

Day 1: this day was the most intriguing part of my stay in Bangkok.

Chinatown: the entire fleet of streets came alive here.  Wanna know the irony? I am a vegetarian! So gorging on those yummy insects (pun intended) and other delicacies was off the charts. But I still enjoyed the entire vibe, lights, the shopping and people falling over each other just to walk or eat.

Can you feel the liveliness of this street?

You’ve got to visit it, just to submerge in the sweet chaos.

Oh sweet Lord.

Soi Cowboy: this is the infamous red-light area. No matter how mentally prepared you would be, it will still shock you. So here’s an unsaid rule- to enter any bar, you need to buy yourself a drink (exorbitantly priced). Once you buy your drink, they will escort to your table.

You might encounter a strip show, pole dance, a ping pong show.

It was more crowded than it looks like.

Kinda-sorta broke my heart to see some really young Thai girls putting themselves out there, for a living.

 Khao San Road: every backpacker’s den.  It’s literally a wide street filled with bars/ pubs/clubs on either sides. There’s music and alcohol everywhere! What I loved about this street was, everyone is almost so zonked out; you could end up dancing with a total stranger and still have the best night of your life.

This was the backside of Khao San street. The front side was super crowded, so all we did was dance. No photographs 🙂

PS: Everything shuts by 2 AM though.

Day 2: If you look closely, Bangkok is a lot about graceful streets, temples and of course, the nightlife. So, what we did was take a boat ride across the old Bangkok.  60 minutes ride, across the oldest houses in the by-lanes, amidst the waters. It gave the Venice feels, except it wasn’t a gondola ride.

How can a street be so calming?

 

Ya feel me now?

Traveller’s tip: if you look younger than your age (but you’re an adult), take advantage of it! I could pull off as a student. Hence, instead of paying 1k TBH, I paid 600 TBH for the boat ride, posing as an overseas international student.

Skyscrapers from the waters.
Yeah, I had my moment of ‘introspection’.
Oldest houses built on waters.
Such a pretty house.

Wat Arun: Same rules apply to all the Thai temples. Ladies, cover yourselves before you enter. It’s a charming sanctuary with the perfect white walls. Keep exploring, and you will find other adjoining temples with the prettiest interiors. Just sitting back inside the temple was utterly soothing.

Charming isn’t it?

Traveller’s tip: you can reach this temple only via boat. It’s in the middle of the Bangkok River.

Dang it. Those tiny details man! The architecture. Amazeballs.
The other adjacent temples.
It was so beautiful, could not help but take a capture.

Wat Pho: it’s an elegant little temple that has the biggest gold plated sleeping Buddha figurine OR  also known as the reclining Buddha! It’s endless man. Not to be missed for sure.

Unreal isn’t it? I had to use my supreme photography skills. Cause while clicking this, there were literally hoards of people posing below the figurine.
It had just rained.

Lumphini Park: I like taking strolls. Hence I ended up going to this park. To put it crisply, this is Thailand’s version of Central Park. Utterly pleasant.

Cosy. Isn’t it?

Traveller’s tip: Don’t commute in tuk-tuks in the evening. The traffic is deathly. Walk or use the sky trains.

Pratunam Market: Ok, so a visit to Bangkok is incomplete without shopping eh? I shopped in one of the biggest markets there. Whatever you want, they’ve got it. Shoes, accessories, clothes, bags, the works! Also, you cannot miss the night markets of Pratunam.

After an extra ordinary long day, we headed to Khao San road to chill and party till our feet gave away.

Day 3: woke up with a heavy heart, the trip had inevitably come to an end. But! I still had half a day with me.

I knew I had to get a glimpse of Bangkok from the top.

Riverside view restaurant: So I went to a lesser known restaurant that gave a stupendous riverside view with the Bangkok skyscrapers in the background. Recommended for backpackers (it’s super affordable, with a lovely view).

Used the local Thai bus to commute, since I had a bus stop right outside my hostel. Trust me, use the local transport! It’s cheap and gratifying.

Vision from the restaurant. Does it get any better than this?

Needless to say, a chilled beer, cheese loaded fries and the view gave me the perfect last day in Thailand.

I wanted to spend more time on the islands; hence I couldn’t give Bangkok more than 2 and half days. Of course there’s a lot to soak in, and I know I will be back in Thailand soon.

Street Picture Perfect.

How to reach from Krabi: Flight to Bangkok.

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Commute from Bangkok Airport to hostel: Bus

Duration: 45 minutes

Cost: 120 TBH per person

Where to stay: Mad Monkey Hostel. It’s a party hostel, right near Khao San road.

Places I missed out on, but can visit:

  1. Grand palace: entry fee of 500TBH
  2. Ayuthaya: it’s a day trip from Bangkok. Some old vintage temples and ruins. If you love the whiff of history, GO!

Additional expenses:

60 minute boat ride:  600 TBH per person

*Honest confession*: I wasn’t keen on visiting Thailand. Felt it is too commercial. But, I am glad I changed my mind. Everything about Thailand was dreamy and magical and I am not ready to say goodbye to this country yet. Let’s just say: To be continued…..

But till then, off to next adventures already!

Ciao, for now!

Oh KRAAAB-I…!!

Confession: I was almost on the verge of cancelling my stay in Krabi and extending it in my beloved Koh Phangan. But, better sense prevailed.

Traveller’s tip: Never get attached to a place or fellow backpackers you’ve just met.

So far, I was failing miserably at it.

Reaching Krabi was a long journey that consisted of using two modes of transports (ferry +bus). There was a stark difference in this city compared to the island life I was living so far.

Day 1: For the first 60 minutes? I HATED it. It was so spread out, so many people around me, so many shops (yeah, shopping isn’t my thing), the change of weather and I missed my hostel. Damn, I was back in a city! So what changed my outlook? The random bar (around Ao Nang beach) with some phenomenal live music, made me feel better.

Busy streets of Krabi, near Ao Nang Beach.

The performers were a cute Spanish couple, and they were killing it. Right from singing Summer of 69 to Sweet Child O mine to gyrating at Camilla Cabello’s Havana, everybody was dancing their hearts off.

It was such a happy vibe! Totally put me in sync with Krabi. Also, a stroll at the Ao Nang beach got me all easy-breezy.

Day 2: Now, we had a gazillion islands to explore, since this city acts like a base that will connect you to an array of islands, for day trips.

But, we chose to explore Krabi city: A  #notsobeachyday. Took a day trip to Hot Springs – Emerald Pool – Tiger Caves (850 TBH).

NamTok Ron (Hot Springs): these hot springs are situated inside a forest.
You can relax in one of the many natural hollows in the creek and watch the water gently cascade into the cool pools. It feels like a natural “hot-tub jacuzzi”. The water is a little too brown for comfort, but quite clean.

En-route.
Worth taking a dip 🙂 Don’t go by the colour of the water!

 

The naturally formed hallows.

Emerald Pool: It’s not a hot spring, but the waters are heavenly to swim in. It’s literally crystal blue as it receives its freshwater from the lime stones above. Makes  for a terrific dip.

The endless forests 🙂
Can literally spot the blue waters, from afar.

Tiger Cave: Oh Man, this was my ‘best – loved’ place in Krabi! I am a mountain girl. I love the beaches, but mountains have my heart.  The entrance to the Tiger Caves starts with a very beautiful temple, followed by the inevitable signage. Once you see that, you’ll realise – shit just got real.

Almost at the entrance. Such a vision 🙂

The tiger temple is situated on top of a mountain. So you gotta climb those 1,237 steps to witness the mind-boggling view.

And so it begins 🙂

Traveler’s tip: If you’re a woman entering the temple, make sure you’re fully dressed. Avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless. If not, you have to rent a cloth/scarf (from the temple) for 20 TBH, to cover yourself.

You will meet way too many monkeys along the climb! So they’re sure to keep you amused throughout. You may hate the process of a difficult climb, but the jaw-dropping view makes up for it.

Amidst the clouds.
Magnanimous.
Look at those magnificent mountains!
Beauty lies in those intricate details.
I could keep gushing about the view.

Post the day trip, we chilled at Ao Nang beach for a while followed by a relaxing Thai massage.

Our very own Ao Nang Beach.

For my fellow readers, who love to shop, Krabi has some kickass stuff. We shopped a little, ate a little too much, drank our local beers and did some lady-boy spotting. If you don’t want to party hard, but need to chill, visit different islands, soak in the Thai culture, this city has it all.

Day 3: Railay beach.

This is one of the most intriguing beaches I have been to. It’s a 15 minutes ride from Ao Nang.

Why intriguing?

You will find limestone cliffs (yeah baby!), white sand beaches, and beautiful view points, all of it – at ONCE. The beauty of this beach stumped me.

See it for yourself.

How to get there?

100 TBH return ticket, and a long tail accommodates 7 people. So our boatman will not start the ride, unless the numbers are met.

Why longtails?

As the high limestone cliffs cuts off mainland access. Hence, you can SOLELY commute via long tails anytime (to and fro) until 6 PM. It’s a choppy ride, but beautifully gut-wrenching.

En-route.

Due to the rock formations, it attracts a lot of adventure junkies too, who are up for rock climbing, scuba diving or kayaking. The longtail will drop you at the West Railay beach.

So, East Railay is generally the docking point, however, West Railay & Phra Nang is where the action’s at. We spent most of our time between these two areas. You could also reside at Railay. But, the accommodation is quite expensive as it’s cut off from the city.

Pretty, pretty, pretty!
Can spend hours on this beach.
Streets of Railay.

Phra Nang beach: it literally has a cave, on the beach. Makes you wonder, how artistic nature can be.

Unreal man!

Spending my day at Railay beaches is how I ended my stay in Krabi. It was a bitter-sweet experience.

Taught me: Every place has something to offer. You may not like it at first. But somehow, it will grow on you. Trust me!

I proceeded to the mighty Bangkok (my last destination). So hold on, till I get there.

How to reach from Phangan: Ferry + Bus. (700-800 TBH).

Duration from Koh Phangan to Krabi: 6 hours.

Where to stay: Kokotel Hotel, right at Ao Nang beach.

Places I missed out on, but can visit: All the islands accessible from Krabi. Specially Ko Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Chicken Island, and many more. You could check with the local tourist companies for the island packages.

Additional expenses:

Day trip to Hot Springs- Emerald Pool – Tiger Cave: 850 TBH per person

Months you should avoid: October, November & December.

Ciao for now!

 

Perfect Phangan!

I put a lot of thought. You know? Which word can define Koh Phangan? Raided my dictionary, to find that one exemplary word, and zeroed in on ‘Perfect.

I harboured no expectations from this island. Why? Cause, travellers  generally arrive to Phangan ONLY to attend the infamous Full Moon or Half Moon parties.

My advice? Stay. Give this island and the locals, its fair chance.  It will surprise you. No shit.

Travel tip: This island is pronounced as Koh- Pan –Yan and NOT Koh – Pha – Gan.

Took a ferry to Koh Phangan from Samui (45 minutes). And headed straight to my hostel. By far, the BEST hostel I have lived in. Picture this; they have a 24×7 open bar + a swimming pool and most importantly, its own private beach!! But what stood out, were the locals. They take care of you real nice. Like our host (Ana) always said, ‘Don’t worry, I got you’. They really mean that!  Need I say more?

One part of our hostel 🙂
Our very own private beach 🙂

Meanwhile, I’d like to break a myth:

MISCONCEPTION: There’s nothing to see in Phangan.

REALITY: There’s enough to satiate every varied traveller.

Day 1: We gallivanted in our hostel for a while. Post that, headed to ‘Amsterdam Sunset Bar’. So, Phangan is known for its phenomenal sunsets. Imagine a chilled beer in your right hand and mayonnaise loaded fries in your left hand, toppled with a spectacular view. I wanted to freeze that moment, forever.

Chilling like a boss.
Saw how magical the sky looks? Surreal.

Later on, we proceeded to Thong Sala market to grab some dinner. Had the usual Pad Thai, noodles and some Thai curry at a local joint. There are so many small little restaurants, that you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Thai noodles – Pad Thai – Yellow Thai curry.

Day 2: This day was all about leisure. We skipped the usual Haad Rin/Ban Tai beaches, and headed to an unexplored beach – ‘Koh Mae’ (recommended by our Ana). I think we spent close to 4-5 hours on that beach, doing the best thing:  NOTHING. NADA.

Take me back. Please?

This beach isn’t widely known; hence you will find a limited filtered crowd (yay!). All we did was chill, take those amazing Thai massages (right at the beach!) and chilled a little more. Super DE-stressing!

I understood what ‘beach bums’ meant, after I fell in love with this beach 🙂

By evening we visited another sunset bar: 360 degree Bar. You can walk to this bar from Koh Mae beach (25 minutes). But, I’d suggest commuting by a tuk-tuk or a moped, as it’s on a hilltop.

Needless to say, the view was breath-taking, from every angle.

THE VIEW.
Whatcha looking at?
Chang’s was my favourite beer brand in Thailand. What’s yours?

What followed after that was truly unforgettable. Our host (Ana, again) strongly suggested we go to ‘Rasta Home’. It’s a small den that dishes out astounding Reggae music, performed by a live band (only on Friday nights), with some trippy interiors. Such a hidden gem! (That’s why I love backpacking.)

We danced our hearts out and grooved until our feet gave away, with every possible nationality. Homie, you’ve got to visit Rasta Home!

Yep. Blur is beautiful. In this case, sexy too 😉

Day 3: This day was dedicated to  Koh Nang Yuan & Koh Tao. You can visit Koh Nang Yuan Island from Koh Tao too. (Samui – Phangan – Tao are close to each other). It is a private property and you have to pay 300 TBH as an entrance fee.

Generally, backpackers (like me) take a day trip (1250 TBH), since it’s super expensive to reside.

Nevertheless, this island felt like Mini Maldives! Those greenish blue waters, coral reefs and white sand beaches, made it oh so exotic! This rendezvous was followed by a small peek-a-boo to Koh Tao. We snorkeled away to glory; in Tao (the coral reefs were stupefying).

Koh Nang Yuan island: my version of paradise.
Keeps getting better 🙂
Yes, you will always have my heart.

PS: if you want to enrol for a professional scuba diving course or simply scuba dive in Thailand?  Do it from Koh Tao. There is no other place like Tao.

Panda mode on, while snorkelling in Koh Tao island waters.

This was just the first half of the day. The real ‘shiz’ happened in the latter half: The Half Moon Party! Oh yeah. Make sure you plan your stay around Phangan in such a way, that you can witness either of the parties. To break it down:

Full Moon Party happens during the end of every month & Half Moon Festival takes place every 2 weeks: 1 week before and after the Full Moon party (also known as the Jungle Party).

Imagine a mega dance floor with the ultimate psy-trance (the main dance stage), progressive (a smaller stage) and an underground beats & hip – hop set up (in a cave). All of it under one roof, in a jungle!  You see? There’s something for everyone.

Anyhow, I managed to click just these two amidst the madness. To put it subtly, the party was legit cray cray!

The mega dance floor.
Half moon on fire.

We called it a night by 5 AM and headed back to our hostel, just so that we could watch the sunrise, by the beach. This was by far the longest day of my trip, but it was eternal J

I proceeded to Krabi that morning itself, but its narrative shall have to wait, for now.

How to reach: Ferry from Samui to Phangan. (250 TBH).

Where to stay: Goodtime Beach Backpackers, Phangan. (1200 TBH for 3 nights) https://goodtimethailand.com/kohphangan/kphostel/

Places I missed out on, but should visit: Chaloklum Village, another unexplored little village to the north of Phangan. It has pretty beaches.

Additional expenses:

Half moon party ticket: 1200-1500 TBH (depends on where you buy it from)

Koh Nang Yuan & Tao day trip: 1200 TBH

Koh mae beach massage: 300 TBH

Months you should avoid: October, November & December.

 Travel tip: If you’re a shopaholic and a foodie, don’t miss the Saturday night market at Thong Sala. You’ll get the cheapest stuff (a 20 TBH dress for starters!) and some mouth watering Thai dishes. Should swing by.

Re-lived my entire Phangan stay while penning this down. I dream to move my base there (one fine day), the vibe is so welcoming.  Hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Ciao!

 

Swadika Samui!

It took me a while to figure out, how can I give a dope opening to my first ever blog post! Well I still haven’t, but here goes a bundle of words stitched together, which could hopefully justify my ass kicking trip of: Backpacking Thailand, 2018.

I went on this trip with two of my girlfriends who are as lame as I am, and so began the 12 day ‘beachy ordeal’.  It all started with the good ol’ Koh Samui. Every seasoned traveller warned me, don’t go to Samui, it’s too ‘commercial’. Well, I don’t know about that, but it surely blew my tiny head off.

Spent 3 days on this island, and I still couldn’t cover it all. Cause it’s MASSIVE!! However, here are a few places I MANAGED to tap during my stay:

  1. Hin Ta Hin Ya rocks: Called the grandfather/grandma rocks. Its USP: the rock formations are in the shape of a dick and vagina. Cute stuff eh? None the less, it gives a surreal view.
Can you spot the shape?
Can you??  

2. Lamai beach: It’s a 30 minute walk from Hin Ta Hin Ya rocks, but the alleys on the way are so effin cute, the stroll makes it worth it. It’s a long stretch of beach, kinda endless if you’d ask, but oh so charming! As soon as I got out of the beach, I had the most toothsome crepes with dollops of Nutella. Took me closer to Nirvana. 🙂

I could eat this all day.

PS: for those who hate walking, there’s always the trucks/tuk tuks to take you around. Make sure you haggle the eff out. Though I trust Indians don’t need to be told that: D

3. Lamai view point: It’s a small climb of roundabout 300 steps, if your booty can handle the climb, go for it. It’s a 100 Baht affair that covers your entry fee as well as gives you a fish spa. The view is decent, but the show stealer was the fish spa. All you have to do is dip your feet in the pond and the fishes will nimble on your toes as if they are making love to your toe nails. Go figure!!

Dekho zara!
Little show off is necessary 🙂

 4. Chaweng beach: The most commercial beach of Samui. Anyone who wants to party their socks off, this is the beach to be. ARK bar is where all the action is (found it way too crowded though. I am getting old. *shit has officially hit the roof*).

5. Fisherman’s Bophut: A tiny yet significant part of Samui. If you want to grab a drink and just chill, head to this place. We went to an Irish bar, where this handsome Thai dude was dishing out some amazing songs right from Rolling Stones to Ed Sheeran. Made me giddy AF!!

Had the perfect ‘girl’s night’ at this Irish bar <3

 5. Ang Thong National Marine Park: It’s a day trip from Samui, will cost you 1200 baht and 120 minutes (one way) of travel time, but it’s totally WORTH IT. Also, would like to add on: that please do carry a pair of sneakers. The smart ass that I am, climbed up & down, 850 steps in my ‘delicate flip flops’. The easiest hike so far. *eyes rolling*. But the view and the beaches? Total Baapness!!

En-route Ang Thong National Marine Park.
This beach though!
Was the climb worth it? Hell yeah!

Like a dutiful traveller, I covered as many places as I could (cannot station my fat ass in one place for a long time). But what made me fall in love with Samui was my hostel. The people I met. The friends I made. The food I ate. The local beer I consumed.

I’m not a hotel person, maybe I can never be one. I love staying in hostels. Why you may ask? Cause of the travellers I encountered along the way, the bond I share for those 2-3 days, the anonymity of being anyone that I want to be. The high it gives you, when you accomplish something, waaaay out of your comfort zone.

My hostel, made me want to sit back in one place and appreciate the island for its beauty, its simplicity, its grandeur. I have left a piece of my heart in Samui.

One of the shacks at my hostel.
Post sunset view, outside the hostel 🙂
My cosy corner.

I still miss the Pad Thai I gorged on, in all the local restaurants.

My next destination was Koh Phangan, but the chronicles of Phangan will have to wait for a while!

How to reach: Direct flight from Mumbai to Koh Samui via Singapore Airlines’

Where to Stay: Chill Inn beach café & hostel. Owned by an Irish-Thai duo.

https://www.chillinnsamui.com/

Times you should avoid: October, November, and December since these are the heavy rainy months. (unless you love walking in knee deep waters, I’d say: AVOID).

See you soon! With another story, for another time 😀

Ciao!