Monday, March 25, 2019

Kochi, Kerala: The Kaleidoscope of Experiences

From the historic St. Francis Church (KOCHI: PEELING THE LAYERS), we navigated through the bustling traffic and finally arrived at the enchanting Kumbalangi Chinese Fishing Village. Kumbalangi, India's first model tourism village, captivates visitors with its iconic "cheena vala" – the Chinese fishing nets that grace its serene backwaters. Introduced by Chinese traders centuries ago, these nets offer a mesmerizing glimpse into Kerala's traditional fishing practices. The village thrives on a harmonious blend of rustic charm and sustainable tourism, inviting visitors to engage with the local fishing community and witness traditional crafts like coir making and crab farming.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Kochi, Kerala: Peeling Back the Layers of History

In another half hour (TRIRUVANANTHAPURAM), we would be in Kochi. During that time, a demure, sweet, middle-aged Keralite lady tour guide joined our van. Without any prompting, she began sharing the significance of Kochi. Also known as Cochin, it’s a major port city on the southwest coast of India in Kerala. Historically referred to as the "Queen of the Arabian Sea," Kochi has been a bustling center of trade and commerce since ancient times, drawing traders from Europe, Arabia, and China. 

Its strategic location and natural harbor have made it a melting pot of cultures, contributing to its diverse heritage. Kochi is also famed for its vibrant maritime history, being home to one of India's oldest European settlements, and it remains a vital hub for shipping and international trade (COLOMBO & KANDY SRI LANKA).

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala: Beyond the Ordinary

Before we headed to Kochi later in the day, our morning was dedicated to some sightseeing in Thiruvananthapuram (UNCOVERING UNEXPECTED DISCOVERIES) The previous day, we had taken a delightful (ALLEPPEY OVERNIGHT) detour from our itinerary, but today we were all about sticking to the plan. Our day started off around 10 am at the awe-inspiring Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. This majestic temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is renowned for its rich history, breathtaking Dravidian architecture, and staggering wealth. 

Established in the 18th century by Travancore Maharaja Marthanda Varma, the temple showcases the deity in a rare "Anantha Shayanam" posture, reclining gracefully on the serpent Anantha. Of course, its international fame skyrocketed with the discovery of hidden treasures worth billions, firmly securing its place as one of the world's richest temples.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala: Uncovering Unexpected Discoveries

Our journey in Kerala began with a splendid and blissful cruise through the backwaters (ALLEPPEY HOUSEBOAT OVERNIGHT), followed by a four-hour drive to Thiruvananthapuram. This coastal capital nestled by the Arabian Sea is a vibrant cultural hub steeped in history and tradition, known for its rich heritage, educational institutions, and bustling markets - a blend of modern comforts and old-world charm waiting to be explored (COLOMBO & GALLE SPOTS).

As we traveled, I couldn't help but marvel at the serene natural beauty - tranquil paddy fields, towering mountains, and the peaceful village life offered a refreshing break from city bustle. Along the way, we made a delightful pit stop at a roadside stall, enjoying Kerala's Masala Chai and snacks like freshly fried vadai and Palam Puri (Kerala Banana Fritters). 

While the chai warmed our hearts, the vadai was good, but let's be honest - nothing compares to our Malaysian Pisang Goreng! (Maybe Keralites need to visit Malaysia for tips on achieving that perfect crispy outside and soft inside!) Just kidding!

After continuing our journey, we arrived at Uday Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel & Spa in Thiruvananthapuram around 1:30 pm for an overnight stay. After dropping our bags in our fourth-floor room, we quickly headed to "The Courtyard" for a delightful buffet lunch overlooking the pool. Despite some dishes running low, the flavors of Kerala cuisine shone through, making it a truly satisfying meal.

Following our city tour of Thiruvananthapuram, passing by notable landmarks such as the Kuthiramalika Palace, Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Napier Museum, and Sree Chitra Art Gallery - though the names were somewhat uncertain - we opted, on our guide's suggestion, for the "Poovar Backwater Cruise" instead. Despite initially likening it to our experience in Alleppey, we decided to give it a go and found ourselves swiftly boarding the boat.


The cruise unfolded into a mesmerizing journey through green waters winding amidst mangrove forests and serene villages, including Poovar Village - a quaint coastal settlement near the southern tip of Thiruvananthapuram. It was a perfect opportunity to sit back and marvel at the well-preserved local flora, adorned with countless spices, exotic birds, and vibrant flowers. Lush banana and coconut groves passed by, whichever that caught our attention along the way.

The cruise also included a delightful 20-minute stopover at Golden Sand Beach overlooking the Arabian Sea, where we couldn't resist reliving our childhood memories, basking in the sun and enjoying the moment of "Poovar Backwater Cruise."

Continuing our boat ride, we caught sight of Pozhiyoor Church at the mouth of the Neyyar River near Poovar, although we didn't get a chance to visit. However, the highlight of our excursion felt almost like a legendary achievement: as we navigated the Neyyar River, our guide pointed out the spot where India meets Sri Lanka, separated only by a narrow stretch of water. We were mesmerized by this unique geographical feature, observing locals along the coastline engaged in everyday activities like washing clothes. It was a truly captivating moment that resonated deeply with my love for history.

Opting for the Poovar Backwater Cruise turned out to be an excellent decision, and we were grateful to our driver for the recommendation when he returned to pick us up. Next, we headed to Kovalam Beach to witness the sunset.


However, the experience at Kovalam Beach on a crowded Sunday was a bit overwhelming. The narrow streets leading to the beach were jammed, delaying our arrival, and the bustling beach filled with locals made me uneasy as many stared at me while I tried to approach the water. Feeling uncomfortable, I stepped back and found a quieter spot to enjoy the coastline and watch the sunset. Although not a pivotal moment, it added another memorable layer to our Kerala trip.

Next change: Kochi.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Kerala - Alleppey Houseboat Overnight Stay

When visiting Kerala, one can't overlook the allure of an Alleppey Houseboat experience (HOKKAIDO WINTER & NOBORIBETSU). It was our inaugural escapade into Kerala, having arrived the previous evening in Kochi, settling in with a night's rest and a hearty buffet breakfast. Promptly greeted by our driver, we embarked on our journey to the Alleppey Houseboat, eagerly anticipating our overnight stay.

Docked near Vazhicherry Bridge on VCNB Road, Alappuzha, the houseboat stood out from afar - a quintessential Kerala "Kettuvallam," blending traditional charm (COLOMBO & NUWARA ELIYA) with modern comforts. Originally designed as cargo vessels with bamboo, coconut fiber, and palm leaf thatch, these houseboats now offer travelers a luxurious glimpse into Kerala's backwaters.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Hokkaido - Japan: Winter Wanderlust

Our final day in Hokkaido (OTARU) began with a bitter twist. Winter had truly settled in, halting all sightseeing plans. Heavy snowflakes blanketed everything, bringing with them the news that our flight might be cancelled. Secretly, I hoped for more snow, longing for an extra day in this winter wonderland. My hopeful grin drew laughter from the group (NOBORIBETSU).

The greatest disappointment was the cancellation of our visit to the Okurayama Viewing Point, the 1972 Winter Olympic Games ski jumping venue. As someone who relishes visiting iconic spots, this news hit hard, like a sharp arrow piercing my heart. Also cancelled was the panoramic view of Sapporo city from the mountain peak and the visit to the serene Sapporo Shrine in Maruyama Park. No sightseeing at all. It felt like an explosion in my head, shattering my excitement.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Otaru: Nostalgic Winter

Totally crashed out from the previous day's whirlwind of activities and snow fun in Sapporo (SAPPORO WHAT AWAITS), I slept like a log until the alarm blared, signaling the start of another adventure-filled day (HOKKAIDO). Today, we were heading to Otaru, and despite my excitement, a wave of sentimentality hit me - only two days left before heading home. 

It's a familiar feeling that always accompanies the end of my travels, a longing for more adventures instead of returning to the grind. But reality bites; I need to work and save before planning the next holiday. Given the choice, I'd travel 365 days a year. As I showered, I mentally calculated how long it would take to save for my next trip. Once dressed, I joined the group for the buffet breakfast.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sapporo - (Hokkaido): Discovering More of What Awaits

What an unexpected surprise! On the fourth day of our Hokkaido and Sapporo tour, the winter weather had finally mellowed. Oh boy, I was all grins as I could finally spend more time outdoors, unlike the previous day when we were constantly running for indoor shelter in Noboribetsu. 

Breakfast at Hotel Maharoba (NOBORIBETSU WINTER TIME) was a revelation. While my tour buddies raved about the dinner, I found the buffet breakfast to be an absolute delight. Those Japanese-style dishes, especially the ones featuring tofu, seaweed, fresh seafood, and a variety of vegetables, were simply amazing. And when I saw congee and bacon- my all-time favorite - my excitement soared. 

The varieties of egg dishes were equally impressive, cooked in the soft and fluffy Japanese style. And let's not forget the Japanese desserts, which were an absolute treat - soft, melt-in-your-mouth perfection that added a sweet start to my day.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Noboribetsu - Hokkaido, Japan (Winter Time)

Our stay at Hilton Niseko Village (HOKKAIDO WINTER TALES) had come to an end, and I felt a deep sense of fulfillment. Staying for two nights was indeed a luxury, albeit one that came with a price. However, the experience was worth every penny because Hilton Niseko Village truly is a star light, star bright place to stay when in Hokkaido.

With our luggage packed and loaded onto the coach after a hearty buffet breakfast, we embarked on our journey to Noboribetsu. The trip would take about four hours, with planned comfort breaks along the way, especially for the loo. After traveling for a little over an hour, we stopped at a store whose name eludes me.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Hokkaido, Japan - Winter Tales

The first night's sleep while traveling (HOKKAIDO WINTER WANDERINGS) is always restless, don't you agree? For me, as a solo traveler, it's a mix of excitement, adjusting to new surroundings, and maybe a hint of horror movie scenarios playing in my mind - haha! I hardly slept, alone in a new place, managing only about three hours before rising early to shower and layer up in winter clothes, eager for the buffet breakfast. 

The breakfast spread was a tantalizing mix of Asian, Japanese, and Western delights, offering a tempting array of salads, egg dishes, and other mouthwatering treats. I made sure to fuel up with energy-packed foods, gearing up for the adventures that awaited.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Hokkaido Japan: Winter Wanderings Begin

Winter in Hokkaido was destined to be an unforgettable experience. My travel companions had warned me about the intense cold, so I packed my luggage with the thickest winter coats and layers, including Long Johns, purchased just two weeks before our flight (COLOMBO & NUWARA ELIYA SRI LANKA). As soon as we landed at New Chitose International Airport, after transiting from Bangkok, the bone-chilling cold hit me, making me feel like I was being blown apart by the freezing wind.

New Chitose Airport, located about 50 kilometers from the central hub of Sapporo, is a marvel. It's the largest gateway to Hokkaido, handling over 20 million passengers annually with seamless access to both domestic and international destinations. Stepping into this vast, immaculate space, I understood why it was the perfect entry point for our Hokkaido adventure.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Colombo - Sri Lanka: From Dreams to Discovery

As I headed to Colombo, I felt a deep sense of love and excitement (GALLE & NUWARA ELIYA). Since childhood, Colombo was the only place in Sri Lanka I had heard about because it was always mentioned when someone spoke about the country. Consequently, it had always been in my mind. Now, the time had come to unlock those feelings and experience the city for myself. However, there was also a hint of sadness, knowing this trip would end by late evening tomorrow when I'd fly back home. While I missed my hub, the thought of returning to my responsibilities felt overwhelming.

Determined to make the most of my remaining time, we made several stops along the route from Galle to Colombo. We visited two different beaches, likely between Unawatuna Beach, Hikkaduwa Beach, Bentota Beach, Beruwala Beach, and Mount Lavinia Beach. Each beach had stunning, mesmerizing waters that left me in awe. The beauty of these beaches was truly mind-blowing.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Galle - Sri Lanka: Exploring Famed Sightseeing Spots

Our day started at the Okrin Hotel in Kataragama with a breakfast that truly awakened my senses. The buffet offered two choices: Western or Sri Lankan. While my four companions went for the Western option, I opted for the Sri Lankan breakfast. Despite a brief 20-minute wait, the meal that awaited me was well worth it. The flavors of Rice Cakes, Coconut Sambol and Fish Curry were so captivating that even those who had chosen the Western breakfast couldn’t resist sneaking a bite from my plate. I felt deeply grateful for this mouthwatering experience as we prepared to leave Kataragama and head towards Galle (KATARAGAMA & KANDY).

Friday, January 11, 2019

Kataragama - Sri Lanka: Sacred Trails and Serene Adventures

Another morning began with our customary hotel buffet breakfast (Negambo & Nuwara Eliya) before setting off early along winding roads, surrounded by unfolding hilltop vistas and nature on all sides. Our journey took an unexpected pause when we spotted a waterfall, prompting us to request our driver to pull over, much to his initial reluctance due to parking constraints. Undeterred, we insisted and made our way to Rawana Ella Falls, discovering that we had ventured into the Ella district

While most of our group seemed disinterested, myself and a fellow traveler eagerly approached the fence overlooking Rawana Waterfall. Standing there, I was captivated by the sight and sound of the 82-foot cascade, known as one of Sri Lanka’s widest waterfalls. Nestled within the Ravana Ella Wildlife Sanctuary, about six kilometers from the Ella Railway Station. The experience offered breathtaking views of the falls and the pristine surroundings of Ella.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Nuwara Eliya - Sri Lanka: Hillside One Day Retreat

Up at 6 AM, I packed our luggage (Kandy, Sri Lanka), ensuring nothing was left behind, especially my phone.  After breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road by 9 AM. Our driver made an unexpected stop at a two-story retail outlet, giving us an hour for some retail therapy. While I wasn't keen on shopping, others in our group bought sarees, t-shirts, and silver pots. Watching a group of Chinese tourists excitedly trying on sarees was entertaining.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Kandy (Rambukkana/Mawanella/Kandy) - Sri Lanka

Negombo to Kandy was our route for the day. Two stops were already planned, with the main highlight being the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage - a must-see for most travelers on this route. When we arrived around 11:30am, the place was bustling, even during the off-peak season, with a majority of Western tourists. The orphanage, set in a vast open area, greeted us with flying dust and the blazing Sri Lankan sun. We walked alongside hundreds of visitors, passing by stalls and petty traders, making our way to the riverbank where elephants were bathing and having fun.

The sight was incredible. Harmless, friendly, huge, and small elephants were everywhere. You could take pictures with them, as close as you dared, for a fee. Alternatively, you could just enjoy watching from a distance, though you had to be careful on the slippery surface and avoid getting pushed by the crowd. After about half an hour at the riverbank, we made our way back to the main road, just in time to see the elephant parade. The elephants obediently crossed the road right in front of us, though I couldn’t tell where they were heading.  Orphanage, most probably to the elephant orphanage.

A Taste of Burma: Masoor Dal and More Lentil Delights

Lentils and dal are essential staples in my kitchen, celebrated globally ( PERTH CULINARY EXPERIENCES ) for their versatility and nutritiona...