Travel Tales from India and Abroad - Striving to be India's Best Travel Blog
Mridula Dwivedi started blogging on 'Travel Tales from India' in June 2005. She renamed it Travel Tales from India & Abroad in 2016. Within a few months of the launch, her travel blog found a mention on both the BBC and The Guardian. She shares her travelling experience and photographs on her blog.
Thailand is my most visited country, I have been there 11 times as I write this. On all my previous trips, my point of entry was Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok. And if you enter from Bangkok, that is where you get your visa on arrival for Thailand. However, on the most recent trip my daughter, Chhavi and I traveled via Singapore for a vacation at Koh Samui. Getting a visa on arrival at Koh Samui on Indian Passport was a breeze!
Koh Samui is a beautiful, small airport, much different from the regular ones we encounter. It looks more like an open air tropical resort than an airport. As you climb down the stairs of the plane, carts with open sides carry you to the main building.
As there are only a few flights landing at Koh Samui, the lines at the passport control are much shorter than Suvarnabhumi Bangkok. I think a lot of nationalities do not need visa to enter Thailand, so when Chhavi and I came in to passport control area, there was hardly any queue at visa on arrival counters.
There were exactly two families on the visa on arrival counter- us and one more! The other family was waiting for something, so I had all the counters to myself! As I have been to Thailand many times, I know they accept only Thai Baht for the fee. It is 2000 per person at the moment.
I paid the fee for both of us, got the receipt and proceeded to the passport control. There was a short queue, which was nothing compared to what I see in Bangkok. I was offered the express counter for additional payment of 200 Baht per person, but I did not use it. In Bangkok I almost always use the express queue as the wait time is anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.
We stood in the queue for about 10 minutes, got our passports stamped. We ran to the luggage counter to get our bags! Our holiday has started! It was that easy for us to get the visa on arrival at Koh Samui!
I came across Soap for Hope for the first time at Escapers17 in Singapore. That is when I met Stefan Phang, the man behind the project. It was my pleasure to meet him once more but this time in Delhi.
If you have to watch only one thing today, I would say watch this video! It would give you a thorough background about the Soap for Hope project.
Soap For Hope - From trash to treasure | Stefan Phang | TEDxBaDinh - YouTube
It will give you a good idea about the work he does. He has a regular corporate job and this is a part of his work at Diversey.
Stefan is in India for a few days and we connected over email. He asked if I would like to join him for Soap for Hope in Delhi? I immediately said yes.
We went to the Vridh Ashram (old age home) at Kanjhawala. The agenda was to make some soap, have fun and in the end donate soap for the people at the old age home.
It was my first time at an old age home, and I have such mixed feeling. I feel happy for the people that they have a safe place over their head. But I am sure the pang of being away from the family must there too!
Doctors for You is the NGO partner for Diversey in India. Tina who works for Doctors for You made a few soaps initially. Then they invited the senior citizens to try their hands at it.
People were reluctant to begin with, but a lot of people stood up eventually and tried their hands at making the soap. The lady in the picture could not not, but she amply conveyed her happiness to us about her day!
I had done it at Sofitel Singapore and I did it again at Delhi. And if I can do it, anyone in this world can do it too. Making the soap the Stefan Phang way is that easy.
We were invited to have lunch at the old age home. It was served to us with such affection. We had a hearty meal followed by good tea.
I later visited the workshop where the soaps are made in bulk by the people associated with Doctors for You.
It was a pleasure meeting you again Stefan Phang for Soap for Hope, more so in my own city! More power to you, Doctors for You and the entire team for the stellar work you guys do.
Soap is something we take so much for granted! And yet soap can mean so much to so many, less sick days, more income, and above all, hope. All that because of hotels giving away used soap and your passion to do something worthwhile with it! May your tribe grow.
The capital of India is a bustling metropolis full of must-see landmarks and cultural attractions. New Delhi actually forms a small part of Delhi itself, setting the modern district apart from the traditional areas. This city was designed by a British architect and today, you can see the heavy influence of European style throughout the winding streets. Apart from the interesting architecture and modern buildings, New Delhi is also a vibrant and lively city full of fun family attractions, historical sites and fantastic shopping districts. If you’re in New Delhi on a whirlwind trip, here’s everything you need to see in two days.
The National Museum
Start your two-day trip with a visit to The National Museum. Here, you’ll learn all about New Delhi’s history and the fascinating heritage of India, starting from the pre-historic era all the way through to modern times. The museum holds around 200,000 pieces of artwork, spanning over 5,000 years. Established in 1949, this museum is one of the largest in India and can be found on the corner of Janoath and Maulana Azad Road. It’s open 10am to 5pm every day, except for Mondays, when it’s closed. It’s a great way to begin your trip and immerse yourself in New Delhi’s history.
The National Zoological Park
If you’ve got kids travelling along with you, or if you’re just an animal lover yourself, make sure you visit The National Zoological Park on one of your two days. The park spans over 176 acres and includes a massive range of India’s most beloved animals, from hippos to giraffes and jaguars. The National Zoological Park is more than just a zoo; it’s also making great strides in the field of conservation. The breeding programme is designed to keep wild cats and rare animals from becoming extinct, in particular the royal Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian rhino and brow antlered deer. The park also features a 16th century citadel and a beautiful green island to explore.
A quick trip to New Delhi wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Red Fort, in the historic district. One of the top attractions in Delhi, the Red Fort is a great example of the power of the Munghal Emperor. The towering red sandstone structure was built in 1638, with massive walls and rooms, including the Drum House, Peal Mosque, Royal Baths, Palace of Colour and the Hall of Private Audiences. Today, you can walk through the rooms, taking in the stunning white marble and red sandstone surfaces. In the evening, the Red Fort comes alive with a dazzling sound and light show.
Visiting the India Gate is definitely a must, when holidaying in New Delhi. You can see all of it in just one morning or afternoon, so it won’t take up a lot of your trip and it’s New Delhi’s largest memorial. The India Gate is dedicated to the 82,000 soldiers who lost their lives serving in the combined British and Indian army in the First World War. The gate itself looks similar to Paris’‘ Arc de Triomphe, with lights that illuminate it when the sun goes down. The memorial holds the names of 13,300 commonwealth servicemen, as well as a shrine built underneath, in 1971, to commemorate the Unknown Solider. It’s a sombre visit, but an essential one for paying your respects to those who died for our freedom.
For an authentic New Delhi shopping experience, head to Chandi Chowk. This vibrant market is always in full swing, with huge crowds and delicious street food on offer via the numerous stalls. If you’re looking for a more chilled out alternative, the Select Citywalk is a modern mall with luxury international brands selling clothing, shoes, electronics and more.
For me most of the opportunities come via email, be it a FAM trip, an opportunity to contribute to a magazine, or a radio interview! Recently I got a chance of talking about travel with RJ Annie on Radio One 94.3 FM. It was featured on #MumbaiOnDeman #traveljunkie, we did the conversation via phone. The show was aired in Mumbai but it can be heard anywhere in the work via their webcast.
Later they gave me the recording of the show. I put it to some pictures to the talk and thought about sharing it on my blog too. Five years later I am sure I will like to go back and listen to it again! So if you click on the video below you can hear us talk and see pictures from the trips I am talking about.
I keep going back to Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal again and again when asked about my most memorable trip! It was such a tough trek. At one point I wrote on a piece of paper, “beat me with a stick if I talk about trekking ever again!” And yet it is the trip I remember and cherish so much! This is the first trip I talk about on the show!
As I am growing older and doing a lot of FAM trips, I have started cherishing my family trips a lot more. I will always relish the fact that it was me who took my daughter and niece on their first trip abroad. It was Hong Kong for Disneyland and what a trip it was. I am happy I took them together to Prague too! In the second segment I talk about Hong Kong with Double Trouble and a little bit of Prague.
And even though there was no time to talk more, my trip with my sister to Budapest last year was an epic too. I am already looking forward to our next holiday together this year!
I love to go to a place where I have never been before. So when I got the opportunity to visit Cyprus in March 2018, I was thrilled! It was a 4 night 5 days trip organized by the Cyprus Convention Bureau, where I was invited as a blogger. Here are my first impressions of Cyprus.
There are Flowers Everywhere in March
I am partial to flowers and there were flowers everywhere in Cyprus in March. I am told that the nation receives a lot of tourists in May.
Flowers are still there in May. I will take it in March with flowers and minus the crowd. But if you like to party May onward is the time to go!
You Will Spend in Euros
The currency in Cyprus is Euro. So there are no major surprises there. I bought a gelato for 1.5 Euro. I went to My Mall in Limassol and bought two branded sports tops for my daughter for less than 15 Euro.
There are Hardly any Traffic Jams in Cyprus
I never encountered a traffic jam in Cyprus even once, not even in the capital, Nicosia. I am not sure how it would be in the peak season but traffic doesn’t seem to be big in Cyprus.
You can See a Lot in Cyprus in One Vacation
The island is225 km long at it’s largest point and 97 km wide at it’s widest point. In India we don’t even reach Chandigarh from Delhi in 225 kilometers! This coupled with very little traffic, makes exploring easy. They have historic ruins, beautiful beaches, night life and more.
The Locals are Caring
Bad Knee, Good Ice!
On the last day of the trip, my right knee gave up on me. I could barely walk with a terrible limp and I was in a lot of pain! I decide to go on the tour but not to walk much on the last day.
I was sitting in a beautiful cafe in the village of Khirokitia. My colleagues have gone out to check a closed mill. The cafe owner can see I am in trouble. He gives me a pack of ice to put on my knee. It brings some relief. I keep asking for ice at my subsequent stops at Lefkra and Ayi Napa. They always give me ice and never once anyone asked for money.
I managed to hobble through the last day and catch my flight home!
They Drive on the Left Side, Same as Us
Cyprus drives on the same side as us, on the left. Renting a car seems less daunting hence.
There are Indian Restaurants in Cyprus
Indian Food at Montparnasse Restaurant in Nicosia
I spotted Indian restaurants in the big cities like Paphos, Nicosia and Limassol.
Local Veg Food
Local vegetarian food is also not a problem. You will get a lot of vegetables, cheese, rice, humus and pita bread to keep you going.
Hotels are a Little Different
Aliathon Holiday Village, Paphos
Some of the norms are a little different in hotels. Like even at Hilton Nicosia they do not give you a refill of water on the second day but they replenish the tea. At Aliathon Holiday Village in Paphos, they don’t replenish either.
The Hilton, Nicosia
Both were nice places, the norms are a little different than what we are used to.
No Direct Flights from India to Cyprus
As of now there are no direct flights from India to Cyprus. But easy connections are available from the Middle East. I went via Bahrain, and flew back via Doha.
Overall I will like to go back to Cyprus again, this time on a vacation. Because Blogging trips are not really vacation!
When I came out of my Dusit Suite 222 I told the staff, it such a beautiful room, you have to drag me out of it! I had a stupendous view of the Gulf of Thailand both from the living room and the bed room! Alas I stayed there only for one night! I certainly wish to go back and stay in the same room! I was traveling in Thailand on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi.
The Grand Welcome
Our group got a grand welcome when we arrived at the Dusit Thani Hua Hin! The dance was extra special as it was done by the hotel staff and school kids of the neighboring area!
The check-in was a breeze as the hotel as different areas for groups, individuals and families and the club guests! We were the club guests with Club Privileges.
I belong to a middle class family, I never thought I would take foreign vacations or stay in swanky hotels. But then blogging happened! I started traveling the world and staying in fancy hotels. Then came a time when every other hotel started looking like everything else! But not the Dusit Suite at Hua Hin! If I wanted to, I could see the sunrise from my bed! I loved the location, I actually let out a cry of delight as soon as the young man giving the orientation to the room started walking backwards!
The bathroom had Devarana Spa amenities. The bath tub was huge. I have to say I did not get much time to enjoy the living room but the view from there was amazing too.
The Swimming Pool and the Beach
The hotel has a large pool and beyond it is the beach. I am not a morning person but I got up early to catch the sunrise! That way I managed to find sometime to swim in the pool too.
I hardly ever get up at sunrise but whenever I do, it makes for pretty pictures! There is yoga on the beach in the mornings as well for the hotel guests!
The hotel has a large breakfast spread which has Thai, Indian and Western selections. But for the club rooms have something extra special, it is breakfast with Champagne!
Dusit Thai Hua Hin is a beautiful hotel with lot of facilities. They have tennis, badminton and cricket on the grounds. They have huge conference halls. They regularly hold Indian weddings.
If you are looking for luxury in Hua Hin away from the town, I would strongly recommend the hotel!
PS. I was traveling in Thailand on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi. This was my 10th trip to Thailand.
One of the very first things I did in Cyprus was to go for a spin in the Mediterranean Sea on the Ocean Flyer; a beautiful yacht operated by Paphos Sea Cruises. As I was invited to Cyprus on a blogging trip, ours was an all media/travel agent tour.
As soon as I stepped on board, I asked if I could go to the upper decks? The crew told me I could go anywhere I want! I immediately ran up to the upper deck to enjoy the view! It was a beautiful day to be out in the sun! When you throw in people on a FAM trip on a boat, photo sessions start almost immediately! And the dress I am wearing has been gifted to me by my sister Alka, almost all my stylish dresses come from her!
The above photo clearly shows how much fun we had on board! It has been clicked by super nice Christine Nayagam of the Indian Globetrotter. While I was enjoying my time on the upper deck, I was told that I could go down for drinks. I tried Keo, the local beer and I have to say it is good. I had a cocktail too. The staff at the bar is from Egypt and they are perfect!
Drinks quickly rolled into lunch. As it was an all Indian group, there was plenty of vegetarian food. It was a pleasant surprise. I checked out and even on their regular cruises they offer vegetarian food.
We did not make any swimming stops but they are mentioned on the regular cruises. It sounds nice to me. The scenery on the route is pretty! Our two hours at the sea simply flew. It was time to dock again at the Paphos harbor way too soon!
I will remember the cruise for the outstanding hospitality of the crew, the magical weather and beautiful scenery. Some days you need those tranquil two hours in the sun to feel that everything is fine with the world!
I have been lucky to visit the Maeklong River Market near Bangkok twice, the first time in 2016 and then in 2018. I was not too thrilled with my photos on the first trip. But the second time around I was better prepared. So, this post is about photography tips for Maeklong Railway Market near Bangkok.
If you know about the Railway Market, you can skip this paragraph and go straight to the photography tips below. Maeklong Railway Market is on the either side of the Railway Tracks and the umbrellas cover the tracks! They are taken down to allow the train to pass and put back immediately again. This is the most exciting time to be at the market, when the train passes through it. The train schedule for 2018 is, please double check for the timings and be prepared for delays from the schedule. Train Arrivals are : 8.30 a.m., 11.10 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 5.40 p.m. Train Departures are: 6.20 a.m., 9.00 a.m., 11.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. It is about 80 km from Bangkok. You can also stay at Amphawa and enjoy the nearby areas. Now to the photography tips!
Be Prepared for the Crowds
Maeklong Railway Market is a crowded place. I visited it in the morning for the 8.30 train, on both the trips and it is teeming with people even in the morning. They are everywhere, they will be in your frame as you will be too. So, decide carefully where you wish to place yourself when the train passes.
Be Prepared for the Smell
When the market is on the railway tracks and the umbrellas are up, you might notice the smell of sea food and meat if you are in the middle of the market. I am a vegetarian and not particularly fond of that smell. The first time I was unprepared and it bothered me. The second time around I knew what to expect, so I moved quickly through the middle and the smell did not affect me so much!
Place Yourself at the Either End
I would recommend standing at the Maeklong Railway Station end or near the crossing so that you have some freedom to move. The 8.30 am train goes to the Railway Station and goes back at 9.00 am through the market again. If I have to do it again I will stand away from the station at 8.30 am and close to the station at 9.00 am.
If you are near the station before 9.00 am you get to climb up the engine too which in my opinion is a bonus.
When the train starts moving at 9.00 am you can stand on the track as soon as it has crossed your end. Be ready, everyone else has the same idea too. So, for a few seconds you get to to photograph the market standing right on the tracks with the train in full view. You cannot do this from the far end for the departing train as you can get on the track only after it has crossed the market!
For the 8.30 am train the reverse is true, you are better off away from the railway station as you can come on the tracks as soon as the train has crossed your end and moving toward the railway station.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Middle
Do whatever but don’t get stuck in the middle. If you get stuck in the middle, there will be a thousand cell phones in your frame, you can make a creative use of that too, but it was not my favorite spot for clicking the market while the train is passing through it.
Video or Photographs
Maeklong Railway Market Near Bangkok, Thailand - YouTube
While it is entirely up to you what you wish to create but I found it difficult to do both. On my first trip I was able to do only a video, on my second trip I ended up with photos only! The video above is from the 2016 trip.
Unless you mount your video camera some place chances are you can’t do both. On my first trip I did a video and took out the stills from the video. The second time around I used my DSLR and forgot to take a video.
Also I forgot to sit down and alter the perspective while the train was passing through the tracks! If I go there yet again I will sit down to take a few low angle shots!
That is all from me at the moment. If you have a tip to add please do so in the comment section!
PS. I was invited to visit Thailand by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi. This was my 10th trip to Thailand.
In my last employment, I was a professor but I was already an established blogger too. It was difficult to juggle the two roles, my travels would take me all over the country whereas my students wished to stay connected. Given the techonological advances how tough that could be? It turned out to be pretty tough if you were not with the right network.
In any given semester I would be handling at least 100 students in various courses. It would be particularly difficult if I was traveling closer to their exams and assignment submissions. Being away on an exotic trip in say Chhattisgarh would become a nightmare due to connectivity issues. While cities have an excellent connectivity – head out about 50 km from the city, and you will discover numerous villages and districts just have no network. While things are changing now, the pace of development is not even, it’s still a long road ahead.
As I traveled for my blogging trips, I noticed there were severe network issues! I couldn’t get in touch back home, my students couldn’t call me and my work was getting extremely difficult to manage. I used to be on Airtel but then because of the college connection, I had to change my operator. The network issues made it difficult for me to answer the student queries on the go! I just couldn’t get simple things done on time because network was just not responding.
One day when while passing through a small town in Chhattisgar, we stopped at the village square. I saw an elderly gentleman streaming a video on Youtube; at the point when my phone had no signal. I went up to him and asked him what network he was using to which he answered Airtel. I felt a little stupid.
The next five days I travelled with an Airtel sim (which was anyway my personal number) through the entire trip, and nowhere I lost the network. It was easy for my students and colleagues to connect with me after that! It was easier to manage my work and blogging with Airtel.
Chhavi and I had the pleasure to go for a staycation (on invitation) to Pullman Aerocity New Delhi for one night. After a while she told me, “this is the most stylish hotel I have come across!” I am always happy to spend time with the kid on holidays and staycations as she is a lot of fun. Pullman is located in Aerocity and is a good place for your rest and rejuvenation.
The Check In
The check in was a breeze for us, we went to the reception and after the usual formalities, we were on our way to the suite we were staying in. But before we went, Chhavi was quite taken in with the lights at the lobby. They reminded me of Changi a little.
We had a beautiful suite with a huge living area and a comfortable bedroom. But the highlight for Chhavi was the large bath tub. If she could have it her way, she would live for half a day just inside the tub!
She also loved the fact that there was a tennis featured chocolate waiting specially for her in the room! She has started playing tennis regularly and it delighted her immensely that the people at the hotel knew about it. A lot of credit to the hotel staff who went through my Instagram highlights and figured that out! It was special for me too.
We had a comfortable sleep in the room. From the bedroom I could see part of the airport but the soundproofing is good, I could barely ever hear the planes!
The Swimming Pool
There is a swimming pool within the hotel but we could not use it as it was too cold in February! But we would surely like to go back and enjoy the pool.
The Dining Options
There are many dining options at the Pullman. Our favorite was Honk Asian Restaurant where I ordered Phad Thai. We had Sushi and Dim sums before it. Chhavi thoroughly enjoyed her drink at the restaurant.
We also enjoyed a coffee roasting session at Café Pluck and later enjoyed a cup of coffee too! The breakfast was served at Pluck the restaurant and we had one lunch there too!
However, my most distinctive experience came at Pling with Kriti the master sommelier. Wine is something that doesn’t make much sense to me with each name vying to be more unpronounceable than the other! To me almost all wines taste good! So, I was not too sure what to expect in the wine tasting session with her. But she put me at ease from the word go and I actually enjoyed my session.
We went into great length about why we swirl the glass of wine, to why we sniff it and where does the aroma in the wine comes from! I had a great time.
It was Bonus Meeting My Student
It was great meeting my student Paramjeet at Pullman. He works nearby and dropped in to chat with Chhavi and me. It is always great catching up with my students! The seem to be more impressed with my travels rather than my teaching!
Overall Chhavi and I had a great time at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity Hotel! For Chhavi it is the most stylish hotel she has visited! I also realized that she has crossed that age when I used to be petrified she will break something when we went out! Kids grow up fast and they grow up only once! I should remember this more often and travel more with her!
PS. Chhavi and I were invited by the hotel to stay with them!