Home

Featured

Black Forest黑森林, Yangingshan and Calla Lily Festival

Taipei’s Black Forest is the ideal location to shoot a Tim Burton film. Spooky and uniquely beautiful.

Calla Lily Festival

The Black Forest, located in Zhuzihu (竹子湖) of Taipei’s Beitou District is the perfect ‘go to’ for ethereal landscape and wedding photography.  Hundreds of newly weds come to the Black Forest every year to capture the start of a new life together in a truly unique setting. After a quick Google search, and rough travel planning, myself along with Facebook Group ‘Hikerbabes‘ took the opportunity to check it out.

The Calla Lilly Festival was on at the same time, so we also decided to see what Taipei’s infamous lily fields also had to offer. Both located in zhuzihu, a quaint farming village with significant agricultural history, we were in for a treat.

Directions: MRT Beitou Station – Take route S9 or 129 to Zhuzihu (around 30-40 bus ride to Hushan Elementary School) Around 40 NT (If I remember correctly)

This day trip, with travel and food included, cost around 600NT (if that) so I would definitely recommend it if you’re traveling on a budget. I would also advise taking a coat. It’s quite uphill and got cold very quickly. Here’s what we got up to!

Black Forest… the perfect place to…

Calla lily festival

…look pensive…

GroupBF-15

…. to hold hands and to take cute group photos..

GroupBF-16

…not sure…

The Taipei Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) built ‘Echoing Hearts’ after it became a hot-spot for wedding photography. This ‘installation art’ piece is a symbol of love, built to complement the forest’s beauty, and to draw more attention to the location.

CharlotteBF-15

…to balance oneself on a slippery / slopey 200 year old tree.

GroupBF-03

….take group photos…sat on the slippery/ slopey tree…

GroupBF-09

… to play peekaboo and enjoy every second of it.

After a full on photo-shoot, we then we made our way to Calla Lily Festival which was a 20 minute walk away.

Calla Lilly Festival

Zhuzihu or ‘Bamboo Lake’, located between Datsunshan and Qixingshan was once a natural lake and later a agricultural landmark for bamboo plantation. During the Japanese Colonial Era, the valley started to form fields of white lilies which blossom between March and May every year.  Zhuzihu is renowned for its floral offerings, from its beautiful lily landmarks to blush cherry blossoms that surround the town and attract  tourists from all over the world. And so did we!

It cost 150 NT (Group of 10) to enter the fields. We were also given a free drink.

Calla Lilly Festival

The landscape was truly unique. Foggy and really quite haunting. A real contrast with the lilies.

img_2882

img_2885

There are mini footpaths along the way which go off in all directions. You will also find various kinds of animals; from ducks, to squirrels to frogs to cockerel’s walking about.

img_2905

and I…

img_2901

….enjoying…. img_2903

…myself too much…

img_2908

img_2911

There are also plenty of places to eat in Zhuzihu. Went specifically went for street food. I ate a purple sweet potato and a dumpling with strawberry on top for dessert.

I was a wonderful day out and I met some great people. A day trip that I highly recommend to anyone who loves the outdoors and taking lots of pictures and eating alot of street food. Until next time! @Hiker Babes!

Feel free to leave any comments and thanks for reading!

Follow the rest of my journey:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlotteh….

Twitter: https://twitter.com/chlawrence_

 

 

Advertisements
Featured

Week 1 in Taiwan – Culture Shock

Throwback to May 2018

Picture this; last May, Salford University Library, exhausted; half flicking through my University emails, half trying to plough and few chapters of ‘How Nokia Failed to Nail the Smartphone Market’, slurping away at my iced-Americano, (probably moaning at how much of a joke my commute home is), and seconds away from closing my laptop until…

I receive an email reminder, notifying me about the Post-graduate Careers Fair at 4pm. It was now 3:45pm…..hmm…I’ll pass.

….15 minutes later (after a dramatic/ thorough episode of contemplation, I kid you not) I find myself stood in front of a stall; 2 big Chinese banners either side, speaking to Rosey, representative of Intern China, telling me about their Scholarship program.

Fast forward 7 months; in Taiwan, sat in a restaurant, 3 unfamiliar dishes in front of me; confused, curious, half attempting to eat with chopsticks, half contemplating whether I should ask for a spoon; definitely dropping food down me whilst I’m at it; thinking to myself, ‘what’s ‘spoon’ in Mandarin?’

Taiwan Food

Fast forward to day 7, now having learned the word ‘spoon’ in Mandarin, ‘Sháo’, I can safely say that I have learned a great deal since my arrival; such as downloading the Google Translate APP to avoid situations such as the above.

So.. to the point; here are a few things that I’ve learned since being here. Some culture shocks, some useful tips for anyone who intends to visit (or just curious).

Culture Shock

Taiwan Culture Shock #1

It’s illegal to cross the road without the green man

Culture Shock Taiwan

… and didn’t I just show myself up at the first chance. ‘Breaking the law’ so to say within 10 seconds of setting as much as a foot in Taiwan. Having departed from India 24 hours before where the traffic system is pretty much a ‘free man for all’ / run and hope’ situation, Taiwan was possibly one of the worst follow-on destinations as far as complying with foreign traffic systems go.

 

Taiwan Culture Shock #2

Pedestrian Crossings are not as danger-free as you would hope

Taiwan Culture Shock

The green man for you is also a green light for the car to the left/ right of you; don’t cross the cross with your head in the clouds/ to your phone in that case. I’m trying to get my head around Taiwan’s traffic system and I can’t for the life of me understand the logistics behind it, but hey, I’m just gonna keep my side-vision game strong.

Taiwan Culture Shock #3

7 Eleven and Family Mart are everywhere.. I mean EVERYWHERE

Culture Shock

A disease you could say, but I’d go further. I mean if I walk out of my apartment, I see a Family Mart, If I look right, I will see a Family Mart. I’m sure if I turn right again, I wait I just did, and there’s a Family Mart. What’s more… both 7 Eleven / Family Mart sell/ offer just about everything; you want a coffee? 7 Eleven; you need to post something? 7 Eleven; you need to nap? 7 Eleven; need a prescription? 7 Eleven. The ultimate, hybrid and most geographically reliable ‘convenience stores’ you’ll ever come across. The upstairs closes pretty early too and I’m sure its to stop people from mistaking them for Air BnB’s.

Taiwan Culture Shock #4

Drinking alcohol in the street is perfectly legal

Culture Shock Taiwan

Tourists are easily recognisable; identified by the ratio of beer bottles to the number of people in a group (usually walking with a smug look on their face too- myself include.) The excitement of doing something so unlawful and deemed really quite distasteful makes it too much of an experience to miss. Oh wait, 7 Eleven even top the lid off for you.

Taiwan Culture Shock #5

Don’t be shocked if someone burps when speaking to you.

Day 2  -‘Hello, nice to meet (burp) you Charlotte.’ Me *Awkwardly smiling* ‘Nice to meet you too’ (Ok, I’ll just pretend that didn’t happen and remind myself that this is going to be perfectly acceptable and even in some situations polite for the next few months.)

Taiwan Culture Shock #6

Expect non-western toilets

toilet

No surprise, non- western toilets come with the not so pleasant challenge of ‘doing things differently’, making toilet experiences a new ball game. Your squat game will become suddenly somewhat stronger and your tolerance to no toilet roll situations will become second to none. Advice: carry toilet roll with you just in case.

Taiwan Culture Shock #7

Everything is cute

Taiwan Culture Shock

From Hello Kitty wine bottles, teddy bear stickers on garage windows, to larger than life teddies laying around convenience stores. Don’t be shocked if you see Minnie Mouse on a pack of condoms.

Useful things to know

Taiwanese people are very friendly

Excuse the cliché (and the generalization) but Taiwanese people are THE NICEST people I’ve ever met. Having traveled Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam earlier this year, I feel I have something to back this statement up with. From helping me out with directions, offering to carry my suitcase, to really going out of their way to help me in whatever scenario, Taiwanese people are up there in my list of friendliest countries.

Currency –Taiwanese Dollars : GBP = 40:1

You’ll know your 4 times table in no time.

Branded stores are Expensive

Quality clothing aka branded items are heavily taxed and therefore expensive. I was caught out straight away after carelessly buying a packet of cotton underwear from H&M for 350 NT (around £8). It doesn’t sound like much but considering the cost of living in Taiwan, it’s on the upper end. Tourists usually resort to buying lower quality clothing from the local shops or buying online.

Local food is cheap

Taipei is full of night markets restaurants in various parts of the city, offering cheap and ‘go-to’ food. The food is typically fried and you frequently experience a wiff of ‘smelly tofu’ as you walk around.

Culture Shock Taiwan

There are also many restaurants tucked away in side streets along with fresh fruit stalls which are relatively cheap in price. I especially love the ‘buffet culture’; my most common meal is a rice box with fresh vegetables that I hand-pick myself. A normal lunch time meal (locally sourced) costs me around 60-100 NT (£2-2.50) although sometimes, I’ve come away with a bad stomach, so take care.

Taiwan is actually renowned for its food, and it actually considered a hub for ‘Foodies,’ bringing food fanatics from all over to try everything out. Dumplings, or ‘Xialongbao’ , beef noodles and bubble tea are all very popular and if you type in ‘Taiwan Foodies’ on Google, you’ll see why people go nuts for the food here. (Lol that pun was not intended but quite effective.)

Here’s a few pictures of what I’ve been eating.

img_0322
Tofu Noodles with boiled egg and veggies
Taiwan Culture Shock
Tofu, Scrambled egg, corn and veggies
Fried Sweet Potato, veggies and rice (oh and Milk tea with jelly)
Taiwan Culture Shock
Seafood Hotpot

So there you have it. Quite different from the UK and a fair bit of readjustment to go I’d say.

Thanks for reading – Plenty more to come.

Featured

How to get to Battleship Rock (Junjianyan Hiking Trail) to Beitou Hot Springs

Battleship Rock; a large ‘battleship’ looking rock on a mountain North of Taipei.  Xin Beitou Springs; one of Taipei’s renowned hot-spring pool locations; both in great proximity together; for a hike, and for two (feeling rather lazy than normal) hikers. 

Battleship Rock; a large ‘battleship’ looking rock on a mountain North of Taipei.  Xin Beitou Springs; one of Taipei’s renowned hot-spring pool locations; both in great proximity together; for a hike, and for two (feeling rather lazy than normal) hikers. 

To get there, use The Junjianyan Hiking Trail, (Junjianyan being ‘battleship’ in Chinese) -don’t try and find ‘battleship rock’ on any sign-post like we did- the English name isn’t used on any signposts/ onsite maps so you won’t get far.)

Distance: 3.4km

Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy-peasy (just not child-friendly)

First things first; go to Quillian MRT (Red Line)  and walk to Yangming University  (Medical school next to Taipei General Hospital) Tip: Exit 1, turn left, carry road on and left again (10-15 min walk)

1) Entrance to the Junjianyan hiking trail

Follow the road up past the hospital and past campus buildings. The road will curve to the right and you will see a sign to the Hiking Trail.

Battleship Rock

Carry on (this time an uphill climb) and you will arrive at the ‘JunjianYan (Battleship Rock) Hiking trail map.Junjian Yan Hiking Trail

The hike starts from the steps on the left, (the right-hand side of the road) There’s a green wooden stairway- you can’t miss it.

2) To the ‘Mountain Ridge’

Follow the path up and you will start to see panoramic views of Taipei emerge from behind. The path is quite narrow and can be quite slippery if it’s raining. To get to the Battleship Rock, we turned a sharp left down after seeing this ridge. This will take you down some steps. 

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

3) Views of Beitou District  

Before heading to the Battleship Rock, you can see views of Beitou District on the mountain opposite. To do this, you will need to turn right and then left where you’ll see a small footpath emerge in some bushes. 

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

There are actually arrows marked in stones left by previous (thoughtful) hikers leading you in the right direction. 

Battleship rock

Follow it up and you will eventually come to this aerial where you will see views of Beitou District. If you look hard enough, you will notice abandoned mansions. 

Battleship rock Taiwan

4) Battleship Rock

To get to Battleship Rock, go back and turn left this time (carrying on from the previous path) and then you’ll come to a slight incline. You will see some stacked plastic chairs; at this point, they’ll be a small wooden bridge which you’ll need to cross.

img_1418-e1550453280887.jpg


Jinjianyan Hiking Trail


Junjianyan Hiking Trail

You’ll arrive in an area like this. Follow the steps and woah and behold you will see the last sign to ‘Junjianyan.’ 

I can kind of see the resemblance to a ‘battleship’ but only if you put the rock in context with its surroundings. Otherwise, it is an enormous rock and enormously populated with tourists. You will see great views of Taipei, and if you are patient enough, you can get the perfect ‘’living life on the edge’ shot.

Battleship Rock

5) Zhaoming Temple

Next stop, Zhaoming Temple. Turnback around and you will come to the original sign which will tell you to carry straight on. You will see huts shortly followed by another sign telling you to go left.

Follow the path down-hill, leading you to steps and you will arrive at Zhaoming Temple 1100 meters away. As its downhill, this can also be quite slippery if it’s wet.

It’s a beautiful Buddhist temple; steep-pitched roofs and intrinsically designed animal sculptures.

Battleship rock

 

The temple is also known as ‘lover’s temple’ after the name of the deity in the main shrine, the ‘Guanyin;’ the God of Mercy. If you walk in and up the stairs, you see another viewpoint of Taipei.  There are also white religious statues on entering and a ‘picnic-y’ area outside (though I wouldn’t recommend being a place of worship) The main trail continues coming back out of the temple to the left

6) To Xin Beitou

Follow the path through and you’ll come to a junction. Turn to the left and follow it through again. You will eventually see a small sign such as the one below telling you to turn right. Follow it and you’ll come markings on the floor 弘法大師岩and an arrow to the left.

11

Battleship rock

What feels like ‘going off path’ follow it through and the over-grown bushes and it will take you to an old Japanese shrine which belonged to Kukai, a Buddhist monk and poet. You’ll see a window with candles and ornaments inside. It was a really nice surprise and not actually on the map.

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

Carry on down the path (forest by this point) and you’ll be guided where the way to Xin Beitou by fabric markings/ropes hanging off trees. You can’t get lost. It’s a nice leisurely stroll and you’ll start going downhill.

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

You will see arrow markings on buildings such as this one. This is actually a house which offered free water to hikers so fill up! (Idk why the locals are so kind here)

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

Grey steps will appear which basically means that you’re almost at the bottom. You will also see an abandoned mansion appear on the left-hand side. As tempting as it is, the guard dogs outside seem to guard the place and they didn’t sound too friendly, so best not.

9

By this point you will arrive at Xin Beitou; a small village, home to the Bitou Hot Springs lots of hotels and tourist. If you carry the road around you will see the tourist area where you can visit Bitou Hot Springs yourself.

Junjianyan Hiking Trail

FYI: The Beitou Hotsprings close at 5pm. As we arrived at 5:05pm, we missed the chance.

The springs close at 5pm! Also, there aren’t that many places to eat, but if you walk in the direction (to the left as you enter the springs) a short 10 minute away and you’ll come to a town with all sorts of restaurants; local, McDonald’s, KFC, etc.

Overall, the Junjianyan Hiking Trail is an easy hike, offers incredible views, enjoyable, and easy to follow. Definitely recommend. 

 

Featured

Day 7- Bangalore to Hampi: Chitradurga Fort, Monkey Temple

Day 7

New vehicle, new driver, new seating arrangements- Nick’s bag sitting not so securely on top. Me – ‘Wow, why didn’t the driver just put mine on top? It’s the biggest?’

Nick- ‘Hmm yes Charlotte, let’s not rub it in.’

So our 6-hour journey was taking us to Hampi- South Indian state of Karnataka. As exciting as car rides go, nothing too out of the ordinary happened- other than that we managed to find a coffee shop on the side-road; something we really missed. As far as Wifi goes; non-existent.

Chitradurga Fort

Along the way, we stopped at Chitradurga Fort.

Ok google.. Chitradurga fort (or Chitaldoorg as the British call it) is a ‘fortification’ that straddles over the picturesque landscape of the Chitradurga District, Karnataka. The fort was built somewhere between 11th and 13th century by the Dynastic rulers. Between the 15th- 18th century, it was expanded by the Palegar Nayakas (rulers of the Eastern Karnataka region after the Vijayanagara period). The fort was captured by, you guessed, the British in 1779 when they defeated Hyder Ali’s son , Tipu Sultan.

Today it is a cite of 19 Hindu temples, and home to monkeys; lot and lots of monkeys. This was our first encounter of monkeys during the trip, and we were all excited to see them. I on the other-hand, was abit apprehensive. After being stolen by one last year (taking my bananas, mangos and almost my bag-pack God forbid) I preferred to keep a good distance.

The fort offered picturesque skyline views of the Karnataka landscape. A couple of hours, a thousand photos; we wasted no time and headed on.

Hello Hampi

Another 4 hour journey and we arrived at Gowri hostel; a real ‘bag-packer’ place to stay,’ located right next to a swamp and pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the fact that the accommodation what similar to that of a derelict shed; cold showers, pad-locked, no Wi-fi and a life assuring mosquito net to put our (my) Malaria concerns aside, we were very happy.

Monkey Temple

Our limited time took us to take a trip to Monkey Temple straight way. Renowned for its spectacular sunset views, we were more than willing to do the climb.

The temple is located on Anjanadri Hill in Anegundi (4K from the town) believed to be the birthplace of Sri Hanuman. (Lord of celibacy and victory in Hinduism)

A flight of white granite steps lead us to the temple which had gorgeous landscape views along the way.

Tourists were walking in both directions, taking full advantage of the viewpoints with some nice landscape selfies; myself included. Catching me unawares, (readjusting myself for a photo) a monkey seized the opportunity and took my coconut sat on the wall (and for visual effect) beside me. A moment of vanity and it was gone; further reinforcing my lack of trust in the furry beasts.

The views on top were tremendous. Probably my most favourite part of the trip.

Exotic, silver streams, tranquil, warm, peaceful. And of course, the perfect opportunity to get the over-used ‘looking out into thin air, contemplating life’ shot (talking of which)

..that most travellers aim to achieve; And it just so happened that the topic of conversation went pretty deep as well- ‘Nick, how did it just so happen that we’re all sat here? 1 year ago none of use knowing each other, now here in India, overlooking the most beautiful landscape? Our small choices, gravitating us together, and leading us to this one spot…

‘Physics Charlotte, atoms formulating decision making in the brain that you nor I have control of.’

Our time on top of Monkey Temple was tremendous; short-lived, spiritual, picturesque and refreshing after a 6 hour car journey.

We returned back to hostel, had supper and finished the day exchanging our favourite parts of the day over a rum- or four.

Featured

Day 6 – Bangalore: Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, Bangalore Evening Party

Day 6

After Westernising ourselves out for the night (me having a double bed to myself, hot water and great room service) its safe to say we were feeling more so ourselves since the start of the trip.

Breakfast was also great. Familiar, plain and risk-free; at least the continental breakfast. I wasn’t up for trying any of the hot offerings. Curry for breakfast was starting to take it’s toll; the staple bread dishes were quite nice, Idli (Spongey rice) Paneer Paratha (oaty pancake), Akki Roti (fried rice flour) but the excitement of trying spicey things for breakfast was becoming less appealing. Garlic, Ginger, Tumeric, onion were typical flavours I picked up from trying different sauces;

Aloori Poori (spiced potato curry) being the most common, orange and tangy, tasty at 7pm,; challenging at 8am.

Also, the we soon learn that if it looks sweet and it’s for breakfast, then it’s probably savoury and has some hidden herbs/ spices thrown in somewhere. By this point we knew the drill. Nick, who also shared my theory, decided that 4 pieces of toast with lashes of jam and butter was more than adequate on this particular occasion- and his 2 cups of English Tea of course.

A quick turnaround, we departed for Bangalore at 9am, arriving at mid-day. Roger come on board; friend and work college of Sid’s. We stayed in YMCA hotel, a large, hospital-looking hotel- quite spooky inside; but it was good enough for us.

Our day activity was to Lalbagh Botanical Gardens (The Red Garden in English) famous for its horticulture, and flower shows, also regarded as one of the best gardens in the East for its layout, scenic beauty, and maintenance. A rocky hill offering views of the Bangalore skyline, a Bosnai Garden as well as readable bits of information explaining everything, it was a great place to visit for the day- a picnic would have been ideal.

We then headed for food. Not really knowing our way around, we relied on or driver to take us to a good place to eat. So we pulled up to an ‘Indian Restaurant’, the kind you find back at home; quintessentially Indian in décor; lavish, and gold, patterned ceilings, gold-trimmed wall-hangings and a fancy water fountain in the middle. Also in the way of cuisine; a main, a side and bread. No bits of herb-ly/ spicy bits scattered everywhere. Happy and stuffed we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Reception party.

Preparing for the party became somewhat of a challenge; I couldn’t find my dress, or for the life of me, fix my eyebrows and so I made the guys a little late

The reception was held in the Taj Hotel on MG Road, quite a high-end part of Bangalore so to say. The hotel was stunning; high ceilings, glossy white floors and a gold staircase; of course we headed straight to the bar.

The reception itself, was as Nick put it, a “catered photo-shoot’ which gave way to friends and family to take pictures with the bride and groom on the stage.

In between the pictures, guests could plough their way through the Indian buffet- large in quantity and choice. But having eaten what felt like a three-course meal just 5 hours before, we were mostly interested in the desserts. In addition to a caramel crème sort of dish, there was also a creamy, rice-like , custard -like dish which I really enjoyed. Not to forget the wedding cake; light and fluffy- similar to the taste of a light Victorian sponge.

Nam and Sid looked stunning; really on form and happy. Nam’s dress in particular was gorgeous.

5be3f442-db55-4a28-998a-2aaa5965b876

Throughout the night guests were allowed to go up to sing which gave way for anyone from any age and ability to sing something fit for the occasion. This was fun to watch. ‘My Heart Will Go On’ was sung by one of the younger guests; a song which, according to Nick, was played ‘all the time in India in every shop and every bar you go to, in every toilet, over every speaker in every mall; a song subjected to a ‘delayed release’ sparking an obsession with the tragedy of the Rose/ Jack relationship which the West had so long overcome. I think the curry and the lack of sleep was heightening Nick’s already pessimistic outlook on life. Still everyone (including Nick) really enjoyed watching the performances and the inns and outs of the evening.

That being said, I will never eat an ‘Indian’ 5 hours before a planned Indian banquet ever again. One must never miss opportunities of the sort again.

Featured

Day 5- 12-hour Road Trip from Kerala to Bangalore

After a buffet breakfast, we checked out of the boathouse and prepared ourselves for yet another long car journey.

A morning of ‘sight-seeing’ was scheduled in the itinerary; leading us to envisage a leisurely stroll around a few temples nearby.

Day 5 of the itinerary- spent in the car, ‘sight-seeing’ or (taking advantage of the viewpoints from the car window).

‘Things to do in a 12-hour car journey without WiFi;’ sleep, read, eat, listen to Spotify downloads on repeat. But there’s only much music you can play before it starts grinding on you. That’s pretty much all that happened throughout the journey. Nick on the other hand, was smart enough to have packed a game-boy, a power bank as well as having downloaded a Netflix series beforehand. And so I watched him alternate between the two in-between feeling somewhat envious of his forward thinking.

A sing-along to a Mary Poppins song; ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’; myself mimicking Mary Poppins, Nick; Bert, David listening awkwardly in the back. Our over-use of words over the last 24 hours had resorted us to communicate through the means of a Disney musical. Ten minutes of singing, the play-list navigating towards the soprano range, Nick not being able to keep up (naturally); our singing collaboration came to a sharp end.  We bought a few snacks to spice things up; butter biscuits, some Indian coriander nibbles, chocolate bars, and sugary drinks; there for comfort, to ease the boredom of the remaining hours ahead. At one point, Nick put his favorite radio show on the main speaker in the car; Mitchell and Web; Apparently too ‘high brow’ for me, and granted, I’ll take Nick’s comment, preferring instead a less refined, low-comedy sort of style if it means dodging the awful sound waves emitting from the speaker from that moment in time.

Bangalore

After a full 12 hours in the car, we arrived at the Royal Orchid Hotel, Bangalore. Bangalore, or Bengaluru, is the capital of the South Indian State of Karnataka.  The third most populated city in India (with a population of over 10 million), it was very cosmopolitan in character with lots of skyscrapers, office blocks, restaurants, and bars. Going from Madurai to Bangalore was quite a jump; like going from a small town anywhere in England to London city.

The remainder of the wedding celebrations were to take place in Bangalore; Nam’s home town. It is traditional in Indian weddings for the wedding celebrations to take place in both the bride and groom’s hometowns. This meant that family and friend’s from Nam’s side, unable to make the trip to Madurai, could celebrate with her in Bangalore instead.

Late check-in; by this point, it was 9pm, ourselves relieved at the thought of getting ‘re-connected’ again; finally putting an end to enduring one another for a short while.  Costing, 3000 IRN per night (£30) it was value for money, and having a double room to myself, I couldn’t complain. In the evening, we decided to ‘Westernize ourselves out with a Pizza Hut.

On reflection, our Wi-Fi free few days were insightful; bringing many realities to the surface. No.1 reality being; my ‘off-line’ Spotify playlist. It’s terrible. I know now to flower it up next time should I endure another unvoluntary digital detox episode again. I was very excited to see Nam and Sid.

Featured

Day 4- Kerala: Alleppey Boat House

The Night Bus

We booked a night bus to Kerala, a South Indian state on the Southwestern Malabar Coast, through a bus company called ‘Parveen’. Costing 700 INR (around £8), we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into and for the sake of missing the train (given the reviews of it), we were more than happy to take the risk. Previous experience of sleeper buses told me that the next 8 hours would be claustrophobic, smelly and sleepless. Surprisingly, we slept quite well. The first half of the journey seemed smooth and okayish; we didn’t encounter any body parts dangling from the upper bunks or repulsive bodily odours. The second half was less enduring; lots of potholes jolting us from any potential sleep and the sound of traffic and endless horns reminding us that we were in India- should we forget.

We eventually arrived in Kerala feeling happy at the thought of an early morning check-in; only to learn that we had another 8-hour car journey ahead of us. Looking at each-other partially in disbelief, partially in hope of someone else finding the funny side to a not so pleasant situation, we got into the vehicle thinking of ways to entertain ourselves with yet another half a day without Wi-Fi .

Snacks, awkward sleeping positions, switching digital devices; we soon arrived the Alleppey Backwater Boathouse somewhat surprised. Our first impression of a boathouse on our itinerary lead us to envisage an image of a small, yellow stained tin-ish boat with limited resources and dated interior, but we were pleasantly surprised when we saw what was on offer. A large, wooden boat with 2 bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, lounge, and upper deck area. It was called the Bamboo Green.

Feeling proud of our boat, we took the time to take a few ‘Instagram-worthy’ shots of the boat (and of us posing leisurely in the boat) that would soon be uploaded to the boat’s Wi-Fi. Only there was none, bringing us to yet another (involuntary) Wi-Fi free experience; forcing us to (yet again) resort back to childhood entertainment antics. With no board games or alcohol, we slept for most of the day and spoke to each other for lengths of time that we usually wouldn’t and about topics that would never cross our minds. Still we saw it as a great opportunity to enjoy life away from the connected world, instead appreciating what we had in-front of us; ‘living in the moment’ so to say. A peaceful notion shared amongst many travelers today. Myself, Nick and David; expecting to ‘find ourselves’ (should we have lost ourselves) during our time here.

The afternoon was bliss. I slept under sun on the upper deck with a family a mosquitos parading above me, reassured that the half a bottle of mosquito repellent that I had previously slapped on both legs, would shield me from any danger. David, reclined on the main sofa reading some book, and David sat next to me instead awake and observing the landscape.

The views from the upper deck were incredible. The boat followed the route of the canal, with palm trees either side, communities watching the boats float by and small huts selling things like confectionery snacks and oil for passers by. There were also fishing communities in the middle of the lake with, you guess, fish stalls and coconuts. On the outskirts of the lake were fields. It was beautiful.

Dinner-time was my favourite time. Every meal was a feast. Plates of food arranged in front of us, all hand- cooked by our very own chefs!  The owners of the boat were wonderful. Each dish was explained to us; the name, where it came from, how they cooked it etc. It was a real dining experience.

However, our dining experience was to take an unexpected return. Walking back from the dinner table to the upper deck, we found that our Hobnobs had been devoured, demolished (no, massacred) by gang of crows. With a trail of crumbs arranged on the table and deck floor, a shredded box (that seemed to resemble the Hobnob’s packaging prior to the event) and a black feather beside it, we could hardly blame the kitchen staff.

At 5 pm, we pulled up to a local fishing village and picked out our fish of choice to eat for the evening; King prawns costing a hefty £12 each (tourist prices and we knew it). However, with our India budget on the higher end of the spectrum (being the first few days of the vacation) we were happy to pay it.

Shifting through a few pages of my book, sleep and prompting Nick with a few controversial questions, because (well we had the time to) had built an appetite for a walk.

We walked along the riverside and took the chance to take some photos.

In the evening we had our last meal; king prawns followed by half a dozen other dishes that were, by no means, gone to waste.

img_9673.jpg

Our meal was then followed by a few beers on the upper-deck, resulting in a few heated topics of debate following a need (my need) to stir things up. “Nick, which is worse, Trump or Brexit?” Yes, topics of conversation that we wouldn’t ask in our normal day to day lives; topics of conversation usually negated by the distraction of 21st-century technology inventions such as Wi-Fi.

A full hour of Nick ranting, myself amused at how little effort it took, beers flowing nicely; the wonderful wildlife of India coming out in full-force; cockroaches sprinting on the sofa’s from our side-vision, lizards climbing up the walls, and mosquitos going in for the kill, (and for my legs specifically) it was time for us to hit the hay.

 

Featured

Day 9 – Mysore: Chamundi Hill, Chamundeshwari Temple, Mysore Palace

Day 9 – 15th December

Double beds, hot showers, buffet breakfast, 2 sets of cutlery either side (not sure what to do); we had gone from rags to riches in the space of 12 hours, (or what felt like riches at the time.)

Mysuru- Chamundi Hill 

The last day of the trip. A temple tour, cocktails at 9pm, (free-bar), a flight at 2am, it was going to be a long day and I was going to have to restrain myself from experiencing the true benefits of unlimited alcohol this time around. Nick and David on the other hand (flying at a reasonable time the following morning), could go the distance.

The morning entailed packing, breakfast, and a short trip to Chamundi Hill. Aaaand you guessed, OK Google, the temple is named after the Goddess Chamundi where the Chamundeshwari Temple is located on the top of the hill. Apparently, the main hill features an ancient stone stairway of 1,080 leading to the top, but fortunately for us, Google came into play after this discovery, leading us instead to enjoy a smooth uphill car journey to the top. The journey to the sumit took around 30 minutes, and had many scenic viewpoints of Mysore city along the way.

Chamundeshwari Temple

The temple has a great backstory of Indian Mythology behind it. Heres my half adequate attempt. (Google only slightly coming into play this time).  The temple was named after Chamundeshwari or Durga, (a Goddess demon) who is in reverence by Mysore Maharajas for killing Mahishasura; an out of control ruler. After being granted the wish of immortality (no man could kill him), a female could, and this was Durga. The battle is said to have taken place on top of Chumandi Hill for 10 days, the battle of good over evil.  After the defeat, the Goddess, was named as Mahishasuramardini, ‘the killer of Mahishasura.’ The battle is celebrated as the festival of Dasara all over India today. 

The temple was free, and the queue to get in really showed it too. Having been overloaded with sightseeing the day before, we were much less eager to join.  We then visited a small temple at the side of the temple seeing that it was queue-less. Throwing ourselves into what we would soon find to be a  tourist trap, we were given a red fabric band, (to be put around our wrists, a red dot printed on our foreheads, and red dust (an offering) to sprinkle onto a candle-lit table. The red dot; a symbol of luck for the journey ahead,  the red-band; a happy life; it was a common ritual in the Hinduism and meaning varied depending on where in India. Google says that the red dot in a woman signifies a ‘woman’s commitment to a man’ but I’m not too sure if this applies for either of us. We were then given a brief history on the Temple (as what was mentioned above) and then pretty much forced to empty our pockets at the end. Nicely done.

Still, it was a good tour, and we looked very culturally engaged by the end of it.

After taking advantage of the viewpoints on the way down, we then ventured to Mysore Palace, a 30 minute drive away.

Mysore Palace 

OK Google.. Mysore palace is a historical palace and the official seat of the Kingdom of Mysore and the residence of the Wadiyar Dynasty (the local Zamindar people that ruled the Kingdom from 1799- 1950) The palace right in the centre of Mysore, commonly known as the ‘City of Palaces’ with there being 7 in total. The palace is now the second most visited tourist attractions in India; the Taj Mahal being the first.

The palace was beautiful. The queue to get in wasn’t; the closest thing what it feels to visit the Vatican, only India’s equivalent.  Costing  a measly 50 IRN, we were in for a treat. The interior and furnishings were lavish and a lot of the palace was open to the public. We decided against hiring a tour guide for the reason being, we’d been ‘temple-d out’ so to say- or in this case, ‘palace-d out;’ preferring instead to go at own pace.

After our 2-3 hour tour of Mysore Palace had come to an end, we sat down, had ice-cream, watched a few camel rides, and prepared ourselves for our very last car journey to Bangalore.

Mysore to Bangalore (3 hours)

A 3-hour car journey and we arrived, checked in to our hotel, (not that I was staying anyhow) showered and made our way to the Shangri-La-Hotel for a cocktail party, specifically organised for the ‘drinkers’ (us lot). With a concierge on entry, tall ceilings, the biggest Christmas tree you’ve ever seen and guests walking in dressed up to the nines, I suddenly started envisaging that dress that would have been ideal for the occasion had I the baggage allowance.

After greeting Nam and Sid on the terrace,  making use of the free-bar, and shaking hands with more of Nam’s friends, we took the opportunity to thank them for their hospitality and a happy future together. After being friends with Nam for 4 years (despite our 8 year age gap) and learning so much from her (independence being the biggest key to success) it was here that it really hit home that Nam was married; an overwhelming sense of  happiness for her; as if I’d seen her grow some how.

Meanwhile after a few drinks and confidence boost bringing me to announce to my Instagram followers (not that my Following/ Followers ratio permits me to say such a thing) my farewell to India and my departure to Taiwan.

A final farewell, a few hugs, thankfully no tears, it was time to leave. Having drank three double Bacardi’s and lemonade in 45 minutes, and feeling much more relaxed than anticipated, I walked to my taxi thankful to have checked in beforehand.

All set in the airport, check in and security complete, I sat there thinking a) how lucky I was to have experienced India in its true form b) how great it feels to turn up into an airport wearing heels and a full face of make-up; like a Sex and the City doll.

India was a ball.

Featured

Day 8 – Hampi to Mysore: The River Tungabhadra, Hampi Monuments

See what I got up to in Hampi, South Indian state of Karnataka.

Day 8  – Hampi to Mysore

 It was time to leave Hampi. Only a one-night stop-over but with a huge impact. We really didn’t want to leave.

The morning entailed breakfast packing, and then venturing out to watch the sunrise over the wetfields. It was beautiful!

The River Tungabhadra

The River Tungabhadra was at the back of our hostel, renowned as a place of scenic beauty where tourists can enjoy boat rides, (I say boat rides- being towed in what you would recognise as the closest thing to big wooden bowl) down the river. We actually found Roger on way. It looked idealic and I must admit, I was envious. A big part of me thought, ‘if only I didn’t spend so much time fixing my left eyebrow this morning -that could have been me’, but hey!The river is also enjoyed by tourists who enjoy smoking pot, drinking beer and jumping off rocks; adrenalin junkies; an opportunity I’m sure all of us would of loved to experience with just one more night…Befriending a stray dog on the way, as flea invested, and annoying to Nick as he was, made the walk that little bit better . Next stop, Ancient City of Hampi.

Our journey from the hostel to the temple was eventful to say the least. Hurds of cows scattered all over the roads, the driver, lacking in spacial awareness, possibly desensitized to the thought of knocking one over, almost hitting them trying to get through. I was on edge, and genuinely felt sorry for them. The road after, a car crash accident. A car had been thrown off the main road and was on fire. Nobody had been injured which was good, but it was hardly a surprise after witnessing the driving standards that we’d seen over the last few days.

Hampi Monuments (Ancient city of Hampi)

We had arrived at the Ancient City of Hampi, which umm.. Ok  Google, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the centre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire capital in the 14th century. The cite is filled with 16 square miles of Persian and European ruins, once a prosperous city with trading markets and farms and the second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing by 1500 CE. Then the Vijayanagara Empire was defeated by Muslim sultanates, after which Hampi lost its prosperity and was left in ruins. Thank you Google.

The day entailed visiting lots of temples and statues. The first half was free. We hired a tour guide who charged 800 INR (around £8.50) for 3 hours who we found driving on the road.

The first temple; Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. The site was full of Indian locals and tourists; lots of children presumably on school trips and they were really excited to see us. We were asked for no endless amounts of selfies! A 5-minute walk away there is Sasivekalu Ganesha Temple, followed by the Hemakuta Hill Temple another 5 minutes away which had a host of other ruins and great views overlooking the landscape.

We were also asked for more pictures by the locals; I particularly love this photo with the two toddlers who really look very disinterested despite their parents enthusiasm.

A 15 minute drive away, we arrived at the Vittala Temple Complex, which cost 500 INR and 30 for locals! This made us laugh. This was a site to the Lotus Mahal, as well as the kings palace which had the remains of 8 stables for his 8 elephants.

Vithala Temple Complex- A long walk from our experience here was very the same as the previous. Lots of Indian visitors. There were places to buy snacks and coconuts for tourists along the way.

After 5 hours of sight-seeing, it was safe to say that we were ‘temple-d’ out and the thought of visiting was suddenly losing its attraction. Our Temple Exhibition had come to an end and was our stay in Hampi.

Another long, 8-hour car-journey ahead of us. The highlight of the road-trip was the driver’s playlist; it was really terrible. It was so terrible it was great. Think 2008 throwbacks; Sean Paul, Pit Bull; when Akon and Ne-Yo were killing it (and so was I in the back-seat). Another highlight (challenge) was trying to find somewhere to eat. With roads as remote as they were and limited places to eat, it was a mission. Four hours into our quest, we drove past a remote village with signs of civilisation; people and shops and which had everything but what we needed. Buying anything which looked half familiar and edible, we were happy with some pasties and cakes; unhealthy as they were, they were everything we needed given our hunger at that point. Another 2 more hour, we eventually arrived in Mysore, Bangalore, checking into a rather lavish 4-start hotel called the Regeta Orchid.

Featured

Day 3- Madurai: The Wedding

Day 3, December 8th,

Morning of The Wedding

Walking down the steps to meet David and Nick at the lobby, half holding up my dress trying not to topple over; half missing my footing at the first glimpse. First thing that came to mind; linen curtains. David and Nick were wearing Dhooti’s, very kindly fitted by the hotel receptionist who saw them struggling for around half an hour, despite the YouTube tutorial that they were so desperately trying to follow.

img_0898 (1)

Luckily enough, my outfit was perfect for the occasion; the fitting experience; much smoother. My outfit was bought from Arya Design; an Indian Wedding clothes company which I had shipped from India and tailored in Manchester- back-street and dirt cheap.

We arrived at the ceremony; a big venue of around 500 people, an isle in the middle, a stage in front, a band sat near. The music; I’m really not sure how to describe. Ok Google ‘Indian musical instruments’…Sitar, Sarangi, Flute, Shahnai, Harmonium’ … no idea. Not too surprisingly, I had never heard (forget seen) any of the instruments. The closest resemblance; a string instrument called a ‘Dilruba’ – quintessentially Bollywood in every way.

img_0905 (1)

img_0901

With guests arriving at the dozen, this was my chance to look at all of the outfits yet again! Bold colours were in. Orange, yellow, blue, green. Red was forbidden- that was for the bride.   The more the better; the bigger the better. My favourite part of the dress code was the Matha Patti- a head chain- usually gold studded- which sits beautiful across the forehead.

img_9509.jpg

The Ceremony

So.. What exactly was the ceremony going to entail? Ok Google. So there are various steps of a Hindu wedding ritual; Kanyadaan, Paanigrahan, Vivaah Homa, Laja Homa and Agni Pradakchina, and Saptapadi. A ceremony without each step wouldn’t be considered as complete. Traditionally, the bride’s family host the cerermony and the groom are the guests arriving to ‘Mandap.’ The general idea is that it depicts the couples’ first encounter; the brides parents giving her away, the couple promising themselves to each other in front of the ‘fire’ followed by 7 vows of commitment. This was going to be full-on and attention to detail was going to be needed to keep up.

The ceremony started with the usual- greeting both the bride and groom outside. This again happened on two separate occasions with family and friends walking closely behind. Nam wore a traditional red dress; a symbol for many things. Ok Google… Red is the most dominant colour and a running theme throughout all Indian Weddings. According to astrology, the red planet Mars is in charge of marriages, and so its tradition for the bride to wear red as a symbol of fertility and all things ‘auspicious’ ( Yep I had to Google this one too). Also, with red being a universal symbol of love and passion, this is the preferred colour to go for. Nam was also wearing layers of jewellery; on her wrist- around her neck; along with a garland, flowers and gems in her hair; a very long pony-tail extension which was, yet another typical Indian wedding accessory.

8414295b-e9db-4a40-922f-e89e655046cc.jpg

Back on the ceremony itself. Well… as expected. It was very hard to follow and there was a lot going on. Yes.. We watched the recitation of 7 vows also consisting of (I expect) 7 different rituals marking 7 different aspects of commitment to each other. To describe the setting; family were gathered on the stage, the bride and groom sat on the floor, a priest reciting vows, with everyone (even audience members) taking part; from washing elders’ feet, placing garlands over each others shoulders, to throwing flowers in the ‘fire.’ It was very interesting to take part in the ceremony itself. It was so different.

8f79c53c-98bf-475e-ad53-7d848fe01e7c.jpg

The wedding was also structured into two parts; during which we had lunch whilst the bride and groom changed. Lunch was, yet again, (no negative overtone intended) an Indian style buffet. Honestly, I realised soon enough that I would be hitting the gym the moment I landed home.

With Nam and Sid changed and ready for the next part; it was safe to say that we really didn’t understand what the heck was going on but it was great to throw ourselves into it all. The second part of the ceremony entailed going up on stage and having pictures taken with the Bride and Groom; now husband and Wife. Nam and Sid must have taken around 1,000 pictures and tbh I was really impressed at how they managed to smile for so long. All in all, the ceremony last for around 4 hours.

Post-ceremony

End of the ceremony and time to chill. We headed back to our hotel, switched hotels and napped for a while before heading out to find some essentials. The roads were chaotic and the air was humid and heavy. Walking home, we saw three large LED lights pop up from the middle of nowhere; Three of the best letters combined any student could ever wish for- ‘BAR’. With Nam saying how hard it was to get alcohol in the local town, we made it our mission to show her our achievement; success against all odds.  And so we had a sat down beer (or few) in a dingey/ club type bar, feeling proud of our accomplishment; hitting the nail on the head as far as ‘finding alcohol in places you least expect to’ goes.

Feeling much more relaxed than anticipated, we packed our belongings and headed to the coach station to catch a night bus to Kerela- It was now 2am.

Featured

Day 2- Madurai: Engagement party

Welcome to Madurai

MaduraiMadurai:Ancient city in the Province of Tamil Nadu, South India. Home to 14 colorful gopurams (gateway towers) of Meenakshi Amman Temple.

  • Temperature: 30 Degree Celsius
  • Indian Currency: 88.90INR to £1
  • Duration of stay:2 nights

WELCOME TO INDIA 

A 7-day wedding event; a mixture of people from different states; a combination of religious traditions; a mish-mash of language and cultures; this was going to be one heck of a week- and as far as hyped weddings go- nothing beats an Indian wedding. The special week had finally arrived for Nam and Sid.

Pre-engagement Party antics

The day of the engagement party; family gathering, meeting a dozen new faces, shaking a lot of hands, Indian cuisine, henna tattoos- it was a lot to take in. Having just landed 12 hours before, I considered myself very much thrown into the deep-end. Flowers were placed on the floor outside of the groom’s family home as an offering of goodwill to both families; in-scents were burning all around; blessings were offered throughout. It was a real family affair and it was amazing to be in the middle of it all.

Lunch was a large home-made Indian buffet, and by no means was there shortage! As Indian food varies from state to state, this meant that not everyone knew what was on their plate. Fortunately, I was given some guidance to help name the food that I was eating- or the plates of food that I was eating!

Both South East inspired dishes: Dish No.1 -The brown dishes, ‘Khatta– a type of marmalade made from jaggery, dates and tomato’, bottom right; Badi Aloo Curry’, made from mustard potatoes- bottom left, mashed potato seasoned with salt, chilli and lemon- and some fried cookies.

Dish No2 – The yellow dish; ‘Dal’ with rice and curried cauliflower.

Food Review

The food was in some ways similar to what you would recognise in the UK; probably much healthier and organic; much more poignant in taste; more herbs and spices- ginger, onion and garlic in particular and less cream. I think most people, (at least my friends) would have turned their noses up at a few things,  but all in all, it wasn’t too much of a shock. The ‘mix and match’ approach was also very much to my liking! And of course… A dish isn’t a dish without a handful of rice plonked somewhere.

Dining etiquette- eating with your hands is completely normal, and apparently, pinching food from someones else’s plate isn’t the biggest crime imaginable- ‘sharing is caring’ – a moto I’m trying so very hard to adhere to. Over all, my first taster of Indian dining was everything I could have hoped for.

Stomach full, I was offered a henna tattoo by a ‘parlour lady’ who drew the most intrinsic design. I must have told her about 5 times how amazing she was in the space of 5 minutes. Painting on both the outside of the hand and inside the palm was the done thing, but after falling asleep waiting for the outer layer to dry, I missed the chance. This evoked a bit of laugher. After sleep, sleep and more sleep, I was almost ready for the engagement party.

Arriving Indian style late, 20 mins late (perfectly acceptable and even respectable in Indian culture- much to my liking) – we arrived on location. The reception was held in a hotel hall; an isle with chairs either side, a stage in front, drinks offered on entry and lots and lots of people.

Engagement Party

Ok Google! Engagement ceremonies are common across most religion and ethnicities across India, varying in traditions and types of ritual. ‘Vagdanam’, the name of the Hindi tradition, involves the Groom’s family’s acceptance of the wife and their promise to look after her. Given that both Nam and Sid are from different states, the traditions were either regionally specific or mixed; this meant that, for the most part, nobody knew what the heck was going on- a ‘guessing game’ of what ritual was what; from which state it originated from; this was going to be a common occurrence throughout the week. One thing for certain;  it was a Hindi wedding. As the Groom’s family were from the Tamil Nadu province, and the ceremony took place there, the engagement ceremony took the style of a ‘Nichayathartham.’

But first… the dresses. The sari! With only 30kg baggage allowance, I had to save my one and only two-piece for the wedding day. Instead, I was but left with the luxury of eyeing up all of the dresses. Colour was definitely a thing in India; bold colours, red, orange, green, yellow; jewellery- big and heavy. Make-up- not so much. As Tal Nadu is a conservative province, women wear traditional dresses all the time. To show the stomach area is not a  big deal, but to wear a V neck style anything is a big no no!

Sari’s almost given the credit they deserve, the first part of the ceremony entailed meeting the bride and groom outside of the venue; this was done on two separate occasions. Crowds of guests, flashing photography, blessings and rituals; hundreds of photos and photographers from every angle calling their names. It was the closest thing to celebrity worship. Nam looked beautiful; really beautiful and coy and innocent. And Sid, on form, also looking the part.

Entering the venue again, this time being introduced with drinks and herbs, it was here that I caught up with Nick and David who had flown in from the UK just hours before. Jet-lagged and probably as taken back as I was, it was amazing to see them pop up from the middle of nowhere. Being the only non-Indian guests and sticking out rather profoundly, it was great to finally share the experience with them- wondering if the person next to me was thinking the same thing.

Back to the ceremony itself…Nam walked down first, followed by Sid. They then sat on the stage floor; their parents sat behind them; both sides facing each other with all kinds of traditional gifts and flowers in front, a man dressed in a white robe, presumably the priest) reciting vows, and asking the Nam, Sid and their relatives to partake in various rituals.

engagment party 2 (1)It was all very interesting to watch but it was all very confusing to know what was going. That’s where Google comes in!  This kind of ceremony entailed the worshipping of the Almight Ganesha followed by an exchanging of clothes and gifts between the two families. The bride’s brother offers a garland to the Groom and applies ’tilak of kumkum and chandan’ and visa versa, the bride and groom then exchange rings and seek blessings from their parents. Now this made sense. To my surprise, it wasn’t as intense as I expected; people were openly talking throughout the ritual and this seemed the normal thing to so.

Indian Dancing

Post-ceremony, our stomachs empty, it was time to plough through yet another Indian buffet- absolutely no negative overtone intended. The hotel staff, seeing that neither of us (myself, nick or David) able to eat comfortably standing up like everyone else, were given chairs and cutlery located in the centre of the room -as if we didn’t stand out enough. Post-buffet, post-ice-cream, our stomachs full, what better else than to join in on abit of Indian dancing. Nam leading the way with everyone following her every move, myself having already been taught the dance moves a year before, paraded around in a very Bollywood fashion. Nick and David, too tired to join in, but too polite to tell me to drop the flower hands, preferred to watch from a distance. But, when Gal Mhitti Bon came on, (Nick knows what I mean) spirits became strangely much higher – (like when ‘Hip’s Don’t Lie’ appears from any playlist- but the Indian equivalent) and hips were rotating more than usual. Reminding myself that I was in a conservative environment and that the way you dance at home is always different to the way to dance elsewhere, (unless alcohol is in the mix) I tried hard to restrain myself.

It was a great way to end such a chaotic day. Nam, btw is a fantastic dancer.

Voluntour Thailand – Surin

IMG_0317

Where is Surin?

Surin is one of the northeastern provinces of Thailand, best known for its famous Elephant Round up Festival which is held every year. If there’s one thing that I learned from experiencing a stay at Surin Elephant Sanctuary, it is this. The people of Surin love their elephants. 

Activity

Looking after elephants! We stayed in the Surin Elephant Sanctuary which is in a very remote village with small communities; very few shops and very limited resources- such as Wi-Fi. The experience forced us to remove ourselves from the ‘connected world’ making us resort to childhood forms of entertainment. Because of this, we got to know each other very quickly, chilling on hammocks outside of the dorms for hours on end and playing music, drinking, drawing or playing card games. It was a real 5 day ‘digital detox’ so to say.

Accommodation

We stayed in a large wooden house which over looked the elephants stables.  With large washing lines to hang our wet clothes, and thin mattresses, it was a tad different to sleeping conditions as I know it! 

IMG_0079

IMG_0361

What we did

Our duties for the 5 days included:

  • Taking the elephants for walks to the river- my favorite part.

IMG_0403

IMG_0412

IMG_0455

  • ‘Poo time’ – Cleaning up elephant poop and taking it to soil landfills to be used
  • as nutrients for another harvest.
  • Harvesting crops- Cutting down crops and cane sugar and throwing them into trucks to be taken back for the elephants to eat.

IMG_0215

IMG_0225

 

Chopping and collecting palm leaves from around the community. This was again for the elephants use as well as for general maintenance purposes. 

img_0273

img_0269

Food

The food was cooked onsite by one of the workers who was an incredible cook and who taught us a few things in the kitchen.

  • Pad Thai  Curry
  • Vegetable Curry
  • Muesli and banana

Leisure time

In our leisure time, we had the chance to chill with each other as the sanctuary, walk around the village, some kayaking and a trip to the local market.

img_0260

IMG_0122

Extra Activities 

A visit to Elephant Graveyard at Ban Ta Klang 

A sad scene, but a reminder of how loved the elephants are. 

IMG_0381

IMG_0377

Overall experience

Amazing. At the time, I possibly didn’t praise it enough, but now I can really appreciate it for what it was. Life away from the disconnected world, the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s touristy places, and in the face of new people. Amazing. 

 

 

Day 1- Goodbye Manchester- Hello India

Wow… 3 months ago already!

Charlotte H.Lawrence

Dec 6th 2018,

Mumbai Airport

I departed from Manchester at 9:30am arriving into Mumbai Airport at 1:00 am (6:30 pm GMT) with a 12-hour layover on top of my shoulders. Not pleasant to say the least, but it was exciting to feel on the move again- like I felt just a few months ago when I traveling South East Asia. The sun was blazing, and the temperature outside was hot 30 degrees; humid, hot, sticky; ironically refreshing, atleast for someone who’d just left the dismal temperatures of the cold UK Winter-time.

With nothing much to do but sleep (at least attempt to sleep) my first motive was to try and somewhere to nap; only there’s only so much sleep you can achieve reclined on a metal seat in India’s biggest (and possibly noisiest) airport. I quickly came to realise that I was going to have a bad night sleep and that I…

View original post 501 more words

Week 1 in Taiwan – Culture Shock

Charlotte H.Lawrence

Throwback to May 2018

Picture this; last May, Salford University Library, exhausted; half flicking through my University emails, half trying to plough and few chapters of ‘How Nokia Failed to Nail the Smartphone Market’, slurping away at my iced-Americano, (probably moaning at how much of a joke my commute home is), and seconds away from closing my laptop until…

I receive an email reminder, notifying me about the Post-graduate Careers Fair at 4pm. It was now 3:45pm…..hmm…I’ll pass.

….15 minutes later (after a dramatic/ thorough episode of contemplation, I kid you not) I find myself stood in front of a stall; 2 big Chinese banners either side, speaking to Rosey, representative of Intern China, telling me about their Scholarship program.

Fast forward 7 months; in Taiwan, sat in a restaurant, 3 unfamiliar dishes in front of me; confused, curious, half attempting to eat with chopsticks, half contemplating whether I should ask…

View original post 1,027 more words

The Best of Thailand: What to do in Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

It’s called party island for a reason… It was possibly my most favourite place whilst I was traveling. If you love partying and if you love tropical beaches then you’ll love Koh Phangan.

Here’s a few things I got up to; parties I went to, places I visited and activities I did during my time in Koh Phangan. (I’ll also touch on accommodation and transport on the island.)

But firstly…

How to get to Koh Phangan from Thailand

You will need to get to the island itself; one route is to get a ferry from Chumphon (Matapon Pier) to Thong Sala Pier. There are plenty of ferry companies that operate and usually in the 600- 1000 baht price range (£15- £30- depending on when you go).

Accommodation

First word of advice: Book your accommodation in the Haard Rin location. If you enjoy the parties, I recommend staying close to that area otherwise you will have to pay a lot of tuk-tuks. Also, if you are going over for the Full Moon Party period, then I recommend booking accommodation for 4 or so nights before the party as you won’t get accommodation at any time closer. Basic accommodation will start from 300 baht per night up to 3,200 baht for a nice bungalow. I stayed in Mac’s Bay on the South East coast, which was a steep 20-minute tuk-tuk ride from Haard Rin. I would recommend staying there if you aren’t so bothered about partying too hard.

Transport

Tuk-tuk: You can catch these on any main road by putting your arm out and looking like a hitch-hiker. I found tuk-tuks to be expensive and difficult to get if you’re on your own. My advice is to travel in groups or couples worst case. You can also get motot-bike tuk-tuks, but again, they are more expensive.

Motorbikes: You can also rent motor-bikes for around 180 baht per day

The fun stuff….

Parties

There are a lot of parties happening at all times of the week. All of them are quite expensive, around 600 Baht and you can either pay beforehand or on entry depending on demand; the full -moon party being one you would need to pre-book. Otherwise, there are always beach parties on the Haard beach every evening and its free of course. The Haard Rin beach is a strip of inside and outside bars, for people to get on tables and dance or smoke Shisha. Your choice. My favourite parties were actually my favourite as the music was Tropical Latin American in vibe.

  • Half-Moon Party
  • Full Moon Party
  • Jungle Party
  • Waterfall Party

NOTE: Be careful of the buckets (bucket cocktails sold behind stalls on the side of the beach as they are usually very strong and filled with ice.)

They are also very over-priced, so my advice is to buy cocktails away from the beach or stock up on beer from 7/11 and bring them to the beach.

I went to the Jungle Party, and the Full Moon Party.

Jungle Party

The Jungle Party is located in a secret garden in the Baan Tai Jungle and hosts the perfect set-list for House/ Techno / Electric Forest goers. You will have to look on jungle party website to find out the schedule (just Google it). It’s a very colourful party and theres lots of dancers and artist performers flying about. I found it to be very similar to the Full Moon Party but smaller.

To get there, the best thing is to get on the main road (to and from Haard Rin) and jump in a tuk-tuk. Usually people are happy to onboard you if it means splitting their bill. Or you can just get one yourself if you have the group for it.

Full Moon-Party

The infamous Full Moon Party; the last day of every month, 4,000 tourists on a beach drinking themselves stupid, LED glow sticks, painted face, puking, peeing in the sea. It was incredible. The traffic into the area was chaotic and the traffic out was the biggest mess of human civilization you can imagine. The fight for tuk-tuks is real and what’s worse, you can’t pre-book. I actually caught a motorbike after staying with a friend until 5am; you could otherwise prolong it like I did but it is also much more expensive.

Beaches

Koh Phangan is a haven for tropical beach lovers. Every beach will meet your expectation depending on what you want; some quiet, some toursity. Some more ‘exotic’ than others; more white, a clear blue waters, some stonier and and yellow.

  • Haad Yuan
  • Haad Son
  • Mae Haad
  • Haad Yao
  • Malibu Beach

And of course, Haad Rin Kok ; over-crowded sun-bathing blanket in the day, club in the night. There are plenty of beaches on the island; all tropical, your choice.

Activities

Koh Phangan has many mountains and waterfalls all across the island which offer great hiking trails and locations to hang-out.

  • Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park
  • Than Sadet Waterfall National Park
  • Paradise Waterfall
  • Lookout

I specifically went to Phaening Waterfall; located in the middle of the island only 5 minutes away from Paradise Waterfall and free.

Phaeing Waterfall

The most visited and accessible waterfall on the island. If it is the dry season, don’t expect to find any water rushing through. It took around 2 hours to climb, but it is worth it for the views on top.

Split n fly

Water Amusement Park in the centre of the island; two giant slides, bars and cool music throughout. You can stay there all day if you like. Tickets cost roughly 650 baht on entry. Be careful on the slides; I really hurt my back by landing on it.

Apichada Viewpoint Bar

In Ban Tai, you can find a cool place to hang out in the Apichada Viewpoint Bar also offering gorgeous skylines of the coast and jungle area. The jungle area is also a great place to hike. I found it accidentally whilst jogging.

Thong Sala Food Market

The Thong Sala Food Market, located on the South East part of the island is your very typical food market. Be prepared to overeat. It’s quite a long layout and so the sausage on a stick you just had might turn into another plus 3 pizzas and ice-cream.

Boat Tour

The island is packed with boat tours; all offering in some way or form a tour around the island, a lunch deal and snorkeling. They are usually around the 600 baht mark.

Food

The island accommodates for everyone’s taste buds. The Thai food is very cheap. You can pay 60 baht for a meal! Then there is the Western food, (the stodgy hang-over food) which is probably double in price (if not more) There was also a lot of Jewish cuisine. There were a lot of Israeli tourists, be that was great as I love humous and falafel.

Koh Phangan will be a lot of fun. Expect lots of parties, hiking, tut-tuks, boat trips, snorkelling, LED face-paint, helping a drunken friend, Thai food, Chang and feeling so broke, hung-over and tired on the ferry back.

That’s the way its done.