Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

I did plan to keep this blog updated, but it has yet again fallen by the wayside. We spent a week in Kerala, India back in April, so in the next few posts I’ll share some photos, experiences and tips from our time spent exploring this green state of India.

My husband has a ridiculous amount of annual leave and public holidays here in Oman, which he has to use up each year, so we thought we might take advantage of them and use our time wisely in Oman, so decided to go to Kerala, which is direct three and a half hour flight from Muscat to Kochi. And it’s cheap.

We arrived at Kochi airport and took a bus to Fort Kochi. Although the distance isn’t great, the traffic in Kochi is horrendous, so make sure you leave plenty of time to get to where you have to go. We arrived at our guesthouse, dropped off our bags and spent the afternoon exploring the area. Fort Kochi was occupied by a number of different people, including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, so much of the architecture reflects these colonial influences. Compared to Kochi city proper, Fort Kochi is very quiet and laid back. So it’s a wonderful spot to spend a few hours exploring the streets on foot. One must see are the iconic Chinese fishing nets, which are actually quite spectacular. If you’re game, there are a number of street vendors near the fishing nets, offering ‘fresh’ seafood, which they will cook for you on the spot.

Whilst in Kochi, we took a tuk-tuk to Jew Town/Mattanchery to visit some of the antique stores and art galleries. You can walk from Fort Kochi to Jew Town (it’ll take about half an hour or so), but since it was so hot, we decided to spend a few rupees on a tuk-tuk. And it was well worth it. Many of the tuk-tuk drivers will offer to take you on a ‘tour’ of the antique stores and art galleries at no extra cost. But all the stores are located within walking distance from one another, so it’s easy to get around on foot and spent a few hours perusing the stores.

Since Fort Kochi is so small, you don’t need to much time to see everything – a day or two is plenty. If you have a little spare time, visit an Ayurvedic spa (most of the larger hotels have one) and have a treatment or two.

123456745464748

Essentials:

Getting there and around:
A number of airlines fly into Kochi airport, which is the gateway to Kerala. From the airport you can take either a taxi or a bus. Make sure you book the taxi at the tourist office inside the airport so you don’t get ripped off. A taxi from the airport to Fort Kochi should cost around 1200 rupees. The bus is significantly cheaper at 80 rupees per person.

Stay:
We stayed at two different places whilst in Kochi (our first night in Kerala and our final night) and thoroughly enjoyed both. The first place was Niyati Boutique Guesthouse, which was simple, but nice and incredibly clean. And we spent our final night at Fort House Hotel, which had lovely rooms and a wonderful outdoor terrace restaurant.

Shop:
Head to Jew Town/Mattanchery to do some shopping. Our favourite antique store was Crafters – they have a number of outlets within walking distance from each other and is the go to place for antiques in Kochi.

Advertisements

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar – Part 2

It has been quite a while, almost too long, since I’ve updated this blog. My last post was dated April 17, 2015, which is over a 18 months ago. We’ve had a lot going on – moving in together, renovating, redundancies, new jobs, studies, illnesses and finally moving overseas. So in between all that, this blog has fallen by the wayside. And with so much happening, we haven’t travelled much in that time either.

So here is where I left off, in Myanmar. This is the final post from our trip to Myanmar which we did over the Christmas/New Year break of 2014/2015. We woke up early on our third morning in Ngapali Beach and took a boat with a local fisherman and his son to snorkel around Pearl Island, about a kilometre off the coast of Ngapali Beach. The visibility offshore wasn’t the best, and we were in the shadow of the island, but we still saw a number of schools of fish swimming through the rocks.

After lunch, we visited a few of the small villages close to our accommodation and spent the afternoon and evening, as per usual, on the deck of the guesthouse looking out onto the beach and the watching beautiful sunset.

On our fourth day, we took a bus, well a ute with seating installed in the back, to Thandwe town, to have a look at the town and wander through the local markets. There isn’t any organised public transport in these seaside town, so you simply have to wait for a pickup on the road and ask the driver if they are heading the the direction you wish to go to. The fresh fruit and vegetable markets were not as impressive as those of 26th Street in Yangon, but it was interesting to wander through them all the same.

We left Ngapali Beach after four relaxing days to head back to Yangon and then back home to Sydney.

img_7328untitled-11img_7372img_7377untitled-12img_7399img_7401img_7403img_7419img_7430untitled-13img_7433untitled-21img_7445img_7449img_7471img_7478untitled-22img_7494img_7508img_7513img_7519img_7522img_7526img_7529img_7534

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar – Part 1

We decided to spend that last few days of our trip through Myanmar relaxing at Ngapali Beach, and that we sure did. Even from the moment of our arrival at Thandwe airport, we knew that this was the place to be in Myanmar if you just wanted to do nothing for a few days. After all our wandering the streets of Yangon, spending days cruising around Inle Lake, and exploring the temples of Bagan, we enjoyed a few days by the beach before heading back to reality. Ngapali Beach is one of the most popular and most touristed beach in the Bay of Bengal, on the western side of Myanmar. But unlike other beachside resorts in South-East Asia, Ngapali Beach is unusually quiet and laid-back – although it was their peak season, there seemed to be no one around. It’s definitely not the place to come if you want to party into the early morning, but rather a place to relax, go swimming, take long walks along the beach, visit the small seaside villages and enjoy the freshly caught seafood. We were lucky enough to find accommodation on a small stretch of beach, just north of the main beach. All that was here was our lodge, a small fishing village consisting of no more than a dozen homes, two small local beach ‘restaurants’ (a ‘kitchen’ made from local bamboo and palm leaves, plus two or three tables in the sand) and a few fishing boats swaying in the water. If you really want to get away from it all, I can’t think of a better place.

We spent our first day here walking the stretch of the main beach and visiting the fishing village at its southern end. Of course, being by the seaside, we enjoyed an endless supply of fresh locally caught seafood, which by Australian standards, was incredibly cheap. Grilled prawns, tuna steaks, squid, grilled whole fish… you name it! We also tried the famous Myanmar tea leaf salad during our stay at Ngapali Beach. I wouldn’t quite say it was delicious, but it was very interesting, and had great unusual flavours.

Since the Bay of Bengal faces west, we enjoyed some incredible sunsets, usually whilst sipping a cocktail or two.

IMG_7178 IMG_7179 Untitled-1 IMG_7180 IMG_7182 IMG_7184 IMG_7197 IMG_7199 IMG_7212 Untitled-2 IMG_7220 IMG_7224 IMG_7230 IMG_7231 Untitled-3 IMG_7244 IMG_7248 Untitled-4 IMG_7256 IMG_7258 IMG_7262 IMG_7264 IMG_7268 Untitled-5 IMG_7273 IMG_7276 IMG_7280 IMG_7287 IMG_7288 IMG_7290 IMG_7299 IMG_7300 Untitled-6 IMG_7307 IMG_7313 IMG_7317

 

Essentials

Getting There:
Again, if you want to same time and hassles, ditch the bus and fly to Thandwe airport, which is located about 10km north on Ngapali Beach. Most hotels should organise a pick-up service as taxis are virtually non-existent in this area.

Stay:
Our accommodation at Ngapali Beach was probably our favourite in Myanmar. We stayed at Yoma Cherry Lodge, located in a small bay just north of the main beach. Excellently run by an English lady called Sue, there was nothing that we could find fault with. The room was large and clean and looked out onto the beautiful tropical gardens. The dining area overlooked the beach and was perfect for that sunset cocktail. The staff were friendly and the restaurant food tasty. We felt as though we were staying at a friend’s beach house. And the location was excellent – we were the only lodge, bar one, on this secluded beach, located near Lin Tha village. If you want to get away from it all, this is the perfect place.

Bagan, Myanmar – Part 2

We begun our second day in Bagan with an early morning hot-air balloon flight! It was nothing less than amazing. I had flown in a hot-air balloon only once before, in Cappadocia, Turkey, back in 2013 (you can see the pics here).  And it was Jonathan’s first time. I have to say that I think the landscape of Cappadocia was more stunning, but the view of Bagan from the air, with its hundreds of temples dotted across the landscape, glowing in the dawn light, wasn’t far behind. It was incredible to see the vastness of the Bagan ‘complex’ from such a height – seeing it from the air really made me appreciate the greatness of the place. I’d highly recommend spending the bit of extra money whilst in Bagan and take a balloon flight.

We spent quite a few hours that day wandering around Myinkaba searching for the perfect piece of lacquerware. There isn’t much in Myinkaba, except a few workshops dotted amongst a few dozen homes. Myinkaba is the place to purchase laquerware in Myanmar. The people of Myinkaba have been producing lacquerware for generations, with many workshops producing their own unique styles and patterns. There are so many lacquerware workshops in Myinkaba (a small town located between Old Bagan and New Bagan) that it can be a little difficult to decide what to buy and from which workshop. Take some time to browse through a number of stores, talk to the store holders and get an indication of the price you should be paying. Most places have set prices, but will go down 10%-20% if you bargain hard enough. We spent close to 3 hours going back and fourth between the workshops, before finally setting our eyes on a particular piece, then bargaining on a price. We finally left with a stunning three piece lacquerware set (I had my eye on the piece in the first workshop we visited), which we now keep on display in our lounge room.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering around Bagan on our hired push-bikes, visiting the temples of Shwezigon Paya (with it’s beautiful gilded zedi), Htilominlo Pahto and finally watching the dusty sunset from Shwesandaw Paya.

IMG_6816 IMG_6824 Untitled-6 IMG_6852 IMG_6861 Untitled-7 IMG_6872 IMG_6882 IMG_6885 IMG_6889 IMG_6890 Untitled-8 IMG_6909 Untitled-20 IMG_6872 IMG_6882 IMG_6885 IMG_6889 IMG_6890 Untitled-8 IMG_6909 Untitled-20 IMG_6916 IMG_6931 IMG_6933 Untitled-21 IMG_6936 IMG_6942 IMG_6948 IMG_6956 Untitled-22 IMG_6961 IMG_6968 IMG_6991 IMG_6997 IMG_7002 IMG_7024 Untitled-23 IMG_7038 IMG_7039 Untitled-24 IMG_7056 IMG_7058 IMG_7064 IMG_7078 IMG_7085 IMG_7086 IMG_7090 IMG_7123 IMG_7124 IMG_7127 IMG_7130 IMG_7139 IMG_7142 IMG_7146 IMG_7149

Essentials

To Do:
Hot-air ballooning! Just check out the photos above! Perhaps not quite as spectacular as hot-air ballooning over Capadoccia in Turkey, but it’s pretty good. Seeing all the temples, pagodas and stupas from the air at sunrise is absolutely spectacular. We spoke to a couple who have flown in hot-air balloons all over the world and they said they flight in Bagan is second only to that in Capadoccia. We flew with Balloons over Bagan, who are the pioneers of hot-air ballooning in Bagan (being the only outfit until about a year ago when Oriental Ballooning showed up) and seem run a well-oiled business. They employ experienced and well-trained pilots and have not had any incidents since their establishment in Bagan in 1999. I’d definitely recommend splurging on a hot-air balloon flight whilst in Bagan. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Shop:
If you want to purchase Myanmar lacquerware whilst on your trip, Bagan is the place to buy it. The small town of Myinkaba, located between Old Bagan and New Bagan, has been producing lacquerware for generations. There are a number of workshops in this town, so it’s worth taking the time to look around and compare styles, prices and quality. I purchased a beautiful piece from Shwe La Yaung Lacquareware Store, located on the main road of Myinkaba. I found a piece I fell in love with and the owner of the store was very helpful and informative. But do shop around before making a final purchase.

Bagan, Myanmar – Part One

Bagan is one of those unique places, a place unlike anywhere else I have visited, although it is often likened to Angkor Wak in Cambodia. The Bagan archaeological zone, which an 100 square kilometre area and home to more than 2000 temples and pagodas, comprises of Nyang-U, New Bagan and Old Bagan. Each town is very different, Nyang-U being the tourist hub, New Bagan being the ‘new’ town which locals now live after being forced out of Old Bagan in the 1990s when the military government hoped to make the area into a international tourist destination (which also resulted in some bad restoration works), and Old Bagan where most of the largest and most exquisite temples can be found.

We spent our first afternoon meandering around the temples near Old Bagan, being amazed at the size and complexity of them. We were pleasantly surprised not to find too many tourists around, especially since it was the ‘peak’ season for tourism in Myanmar. However, there were many Myanmar people from places other than Bagan, who had camped there, along with their cattle, to celebrate the annual three week Ananda Pagoda Festival.

We finished our first day in Bagan with a sunset view over the Ayeyarwady River from Bu Phaya temple.
IMG_6687 IMG_6697 Untitled-1 IMG_6706 IMG_6714 IMG_6716 IMG_6719 IMG_6721 IMG_6724 IMG_6732 IMG_6745 IMG_6760 IMG_6765 IMG_6665 IMG_6669 Untitled-2 IMG_6674 Untitled-3 IMG_6776 IMG_6777 Untitled-4 IMG_6787 IMG_6788 Untitled-5 IMG_6801

 

Essentials

Getting There:
We chose to fly to Bagan rather than taking a bus. We flew from Heho airport to Nyaung-U, from where we took a taxi to Old Bagan. The taxi should cost about 8000 kyat. We flew with Air KBZ and found their service quite good. Although we were quite relieved to complete each flight unscathed, as all the aircraft, ATR 72-500s, appeared to be quite old and being Myanmar, we were not sure how well or how regularly they were serviced.

Stay:
We stayed at the Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and thoroughly enjoyed it. Located just outside the gates to the archeological site of Old Bagan, it is conveniently located close to many of the major temples. The entire Bagan area is rather compact, so it’s not difficult to ride a bike to New Bagan or Nyaung-U either. This was our little accommodation splurg during our trip and it was well worth while – beautiful bed linen, a large sleek room and stunning bathroom, lush gardens, a stunning pool area and not forgetting the delicious breakfasts – I couldn’t get enough of the bircher museli, nor the waffles and pancakes. Everyone needs a bit of pampering once in a while, right? Deluxe rooms are US$240 per night, and suites are US$400 (we obviously got a deluxe room).

Eat:
The only pitfall of staying in Old Bagan is that there aren’t many dining options near by, unlike in New Bagan and Nyaung-U. However, we did enjoy the meals we had at our hotel (although a bit pricey by Myanmar standards – a pasta dish was about 6,000 kyat and woodfired pizzas 12,000 kyat), as well as a couple of meals we had at The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant. The Moon does an excellent guacamole served with papadums (2500 kyat) and great fresh fruit lassis (1500 kyat). They also have an array of interesting salads.

Inle Lake, Myanmar – Part Two

We spent our second day at Inle Lake cycling around the northern part of the lake (hence we don’t have many photos from day 2 – it’s a bit difficult to cycle and take photos at the same time). We hired bicycles in Nyaungshwe for $2 and went towards the western side of the lake, towards the village of Khaung Daing, and stopping at the hot springs along the way. From Khaung Daing we took a boat to the other side of the lake, to Maing Thauk village. Here we visited the hilltop monastery, before heading back north. Along the way we stopped at Red Mountain Estate Vineyard for some lunch and wine tasting, before making our way back to hustle and bustle of Nyaungshwe.

Our final day on Inle Lake was spent exploring Samkar, which is located at the southern end of Inle Lake, and a lot less touristed than the main lake. The few people who  visit Samkar make the trip to see the old Buddhist ruins located in and around the village, as well as to experience the local village life of the Shan, Intha and Pa-O people, which has been left virtually undisturbed by tourism. Getting to and from Samkar is part of the experience – even through it is a long trip, about 2.5 to 3 hours in each direction, along the way you get to see many beautiful lakeside villages, as well as the stunning landscapes which hug the narrow straight leading from the main part of Inle Lake to Samkar.

You no longer need to pay an entrance fee to visit Samkar, nor are you required to hire a Pa-O guide (another aspect of the opening up of Myanmar to tourism).
IMG_6366 IMG_6368 IMG_6370 IMG_6371 IMG_6384 IMG_6389 IMG_6391 IMG_6392 IMG_6395 Untitled-11 IMG_6399 IMG_6400 IMG_6410 Untitled-12 IMG_6419 IMG_6442 IMG_6443 IMG_6470 Untitled-13 IMG_6512 Untitled-14 IMG_6523 IMG_6526 Untitled-15 IMG_6540 IMG_6545 IMG_6547 IMG_6550 IMG_6552 IMG_6555 IMG_6558 Untitled-16 IMG_6564 IMG_6595 Untitled-17 IMG_6614 IMG_6618 IMG_6621 IMG_6635 IMG_6646 IMG_6648

 

Essentials:

Eat:
Food in the Shan State (where Inle Lake is located), because of its proximity to China, is greatly influenced by Chinese cuisine. Staying on the lake, we were unfortunately limited to our hotel restaurant for dinner options. However, one dining suggestion for Inle Lake would be to visit Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery. We stopped there for a late lunch one day. Here you can sample the local wines as well as enjoying a simple meal with a great view over the winery and the lake below. They have some well presented European options on the menu, including burgers and pastas, for those who are getting a little weary of the local cuisine. To get there, hire a push-bike in Nyaungshwe and cycle around the eastern side of the lake, towards Mine Thauk Village. There is a sign at the turn-off to the estate.

Inle Lake, Myanmar – Part One

We arrived at Inle Lake in the late afternoon, just in time to watch the sunset from our lake side bungalow. If there is anytime of day which Inle Lake looks utterly amazing, it is this!

We had a jam-packed itinerary the following day, being sped around the lake from place to place. First stop was the tribal market, which is part of the five-day market circuit around the lake. Here many of the Pa-O women from surrounding villages, distinguishable by their black clothing and coloured head scarves, come to sell their produce. Myamnar is a multi-national country, full different tribal and ethnic groups. The Pa-O people, which live in the areas surrounding Inle Lake, are just one of these tribal groups.

Next stop was to visit the weaving workshops of the Kayan women, known for their brass neck rings. These women are indigenous to the southern part of the Shan State (south of Inle Lake). Scarves created from lotus steam fibres, an extremely time consuming process to create threads from these fibres, can be purchased at various workshops on the lake. Because of the shear work involved in creating scarves from lotus threads, they are not cheap.

We took a bit of a detour on our ‘tour’ of the lake and headed to Inn Thein, a large historic temple complex on the western side of the lake. Here you can find crumbling stupas, overgrown with vegetation. If you follow the long covered corridor which leads uphill, you will find another complex of stupas, many of which are well maintained and shine bright white and gold in the Myanmar sun.

Our final stop for the day was a visit to the floating gardens of Inle Lake. This was by far the highlight of our day. The late afternoon light brought out the deepness of the blue lake and the rich greens of the vegetation. It was incredible to see local people working on these floating gardens from their boats – tending their crops and collecting vegetables.

IMG_6004 IMG_6008 IMG_6009 Untitled-1 IMG_6016 IMG_6025 IMG_6028 Untitled-2 IMG_6050 IMG_6052 IMG_6061 IMG_6063 IMG_6076 IMG_6070 IMG_6071 IMG_6081 IMG_6091 IMG_6093 IMG_6095 IMG_6098 IMG_6099 IMG_6101 IMG_6114 IMG_6116 IMG_6136 IMG_6142 IMG_6143 IMG_6146 IMG_6149 IMG_6158 IMG_6168 IMG_6173 IMG_6185 Untitled-3 IMG_6203Untitled-7 IMG_6208 Untitled-4 IMG_6212 IMG_6231 IMG_6234 Untitled-5 IMG_6263 Untitled-6 IMG_6267 Untitled-8IMG_6283IMG_6284IMG_6287Untitled-9IMG_6306IMG_6309IMG_6315Untitled-10IMG_6319IMG_6324IMG_6326IMG_6331IMG_6333IMG_6343

 

Essentials

Getting There:
Inle Lake is most easily accessed by air (unless you’re keen for a long and bumpy bus trip). Flights from major cities and tourist hubs arrive in Heho, the nearest airport to Inle Lake. From the airport a taxi takes about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the driver) and costs about 20,000 kyat (or US$20). Taxis drop you off in Nyaungshwe. There are many accommodation options in this bustling canal-side town. If you are staying at one of the bungalow-style hotels on the lake, head to the canal where you will find a boat to take you to your hotel. It should take about 30-60 minutes, depending on where your hotel is located, and cost between 10,000-15,000 kyat.

Stay:
We stayed on the lake, at Paradise Inle Resort. Although the resort is looking a bit tired and in need of a little TLC, being on the lake was fantastic and our room was comfortable. After experiencing the ‘chaos’ of Nyaungshwe, we were happy to be paying that bit extra to spend our nights on the lake. Generally speaking, more budget accommodation options can be found in Nyaungshwe, but if you can spend that bit extra, I would recommend staying on the lake. But the downside is that you are stuck at your hotel after sunset, as the boats don’t ferry people back and forth after dark. At about US$100 per night for a double room, Paradise Inle Resort is one of the cheaper hotels on the lake.