Sunday, January 6, 2019

5 Things to do in Pondicherry

Pondicherry was worth all the hype and more! This is a beautiful French town in India known for its beaches, food and Fench quarters. I fell in love with the love so hard that when leaving, i was craving for more.

Here are some of the must do things when here:
1. Walk around the White town
2. Have food at a cafe here - Visit Cafe DesArts for the decor and Cafe Xtasi for the pizza
3. Walk along the Promenade early morning, may be catch the sunrise from here
4. Spend time surfing or just chilling and swimming at one of the beaches
5. Visit the Matrimandir in Auroville and on your way back, grab food at the famous Auroville bakery!
If you want to join me and satisfy the wanderlust in you, do subscribe to my Youtube channel - 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Top 5 Vietnamese Food for First TimeTraveler

If you are planning to travel to Vietnam, I am sure you are as excited about the food as about the rice fields, the culture and Halong Bay! It is always helpful to have all the must-try food items in one place – so here are my top recommendations when it comes to Vietnamese food.

Like most southeast Asian countries though, the food is meat heavy and vegetarian or vegan options are rare. Rice noodles is the most common thing to have perhaps, and street food is big. When it comes to street food, it is all about following your nose and gorging on the food like the locals. Vietnamese food is very flavorful, and the taste is enhanced with herb and lime garnishings.

1.    Bun Cha – probably, the most common food item in Vietnam. Basically, it is rice noodles served with pork and of course herbs and sauces. The vegetarian version of this would however, have some veg spring rolls.

2.    Vietnamese Pho – This is like a soupy noodle – served with a bowl of rice noodles and some flavorful clear soup and ofcourse some meat of your choice. The devil is in the details for this one. I saw the locals add some chillies and lime juice to the bowl, and I followed suit. All of a sudden it tasted out of the world!

3.    Banh mi – It is a typical Vietnamese sandwich. From the outside it might look like any other sub or sandwich, but you just have to taste it to know the difference! The bread is crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. In addition to meat of your choice, it is loaded with coriander, onions, and a typical chilli sauce. The one I went for was spicy and made me fall in love!

4.    Vietnamese spring rolls – you know how any curry in India is served with roti or rice? In a very similar way, all Vietnamese meat / fish are served with rice paper rolls. You can make your own rice paper spring roll, by adding some of the meat, some herbs, and roll it up! Dip it in some sauce and wash it down! The rolls are very fascinating because they look exactly like paper but once you put them in the mouth, they would instantly melt.

5.    Coffee – The country is crazy about its coffee. Be it egg coffee or coconut coffee – you will find all variants that you can possibly think of! Vietnamese coffee is usually made with condensed milk and as a result is super sweet. The egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty – it was invented during the Vietnamese war when there was a scarcity of milk. The froth is made of egg yolk, but surprisingly has no egg smell, may be because of the added vanilla essence.

To sum it up, if you went to Vietnam and did not experiment a bit with the local food, you are likely to miss out on more than you can imagine. Vietnamese food is not just delicious but also super inexpensive. A typical meal cost us not more than 100,000 Vietnamese dong or 300 INR or US$ 5 ever. So take the hint, and think about your diet inly when you are back from your vacation!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Today, I am taking you all to one of the most beautiful islands of Hawaii – Maui. This island is supposed to be a good mix of all that Hawaii has to offer – hikes and volcanoes, food and culture, parties, and of course romantic beaches! Today’s article is going to be a 5-day-itinerary of Maui. But before we proceed, do consider subscribing to my Youtube channel, because I intend to release a lot of detailed travel guides and vlogs as well, in the next few weeks!

Day 1
1.     First things first, Pick up your rental car from the airport. This will save you a lot of time and hassle in the next few days. Use this day to, explore the area around your hotel, because every inch of Maui is gorgeous! In our case, we explored the beautiful property we were staying in, The Wailea Resort by Marriott, and had dinner while watching the sun go down!

Day 2
2.     The next morning, drive all the upto Haleakala, which is a dormant volcano. The roads are well made, but is steep with a lot of S curves! Needless to say drive slow and safe! Many people come to the peak in dawn to watch sunrise. I am sure it must be gorgeous, but we took a relaxed drive later in the day to avoid crowd and to be able to drive in day light. and found the peak almost to ourselves! But beware, while its beautiful, its also pretty windy and cold up there!
3.     In the evening, plan to attend a Hawaiian style party or as the locals call it, Luau, which is a fun filled casual gathering of people full of good local food, drinks, and a lot of dancing! Did you know, every Friday the county of Maui sponsors a free party in different towns across the island? There is no admission fee, lots of dancing and live entertainment, and of course overflowing with local food and drinks for purchase! Hawaiians sure know how to party, don’t they!

      Day 3
4.     Well, I sure hope you did not let the party get better of you, because today we are about to take the most celebrated road in Maui – the Road to Hana. It is a really narrow road barely allowing two-way traffic and has over 600 hairpin turns. You will hardly be able to drive over 20 MPH throughout the day, and it might seem never-ending, but guess what! Every half an hour your are in for a delight ful surprise – it could be water falls, lush greenery, stunning views of the ocean or a black sand beach! Well, it never was about the destination as much as it is about the journey, was it!
5.      When you see this sign, treat yourself for the achievement with some shaved ice and freshly made banana bread! Make sure to Return back by sunset because there is no artificial light on this road, and enjoy the sun go down with a drink or two.
      Day 4
6.     On day 4, lets checkout the town life and the Hawaiian culture. The front street in Lahaina is a beautiful water front shopping street lined with shops and bars and the cutest bakeries. Sit by and enjoy an ice cream here while taking in the views of the blue water. Checkout the art stores around, and sit under the most iconic landmark, the Banyan tree, whose roots evidently pan 3.5 acres! Well, you have to see it to believe it!
7.       In the evening, head over to Paia town. Another little town tucked in one of the beautiful corners of Maui. This place is full of cafes and eateries, and some shopping boutiques along the lane. The Paia Bay Coffee with its quirky décor and relaxed vibe is a definite not-to-miss!
      Day 5
8.     Day 5 is really upto you to decide how you want to spend it. I would recommend beach hopping – some of the popular ones are Wailea and the Kapalua bay. You could snorkel, or even go for a Whale watching if it is season.
9.     We however, started this day by taking a morning walk along the Wailea Beach Path, a 1.5 mile path by the ocean, soaking in the beauty of the blue water, watching the health freaks jog and doing some Yoga by the bay. Later, we even took a Ukulele lesson, and just spent the day lazying at the beach and the pool…

I definitely want to go back to Hawaii some day to checkout the other islands, but if you like this video, hit the like button and subscribe. The subsequent videos and articles with be detailed vlog and travel tips. Till the next video, Aloha!

Mumbai – the city of dreams! Its not called Mayanagari for no reason. While on one hand it is the financial hub of India, on the other, it is the city of Bollywood, the arts and entertainment capital of the country. Everyday, people from across India, come in to the city with hopes and dreams in mind! Despite its flaws, the city has grown on to me and made me fall in love.

This article is about some of the top 10 things to do in Mumbai (offbeat), all in just one day! Keep reading!

  1. Begin the morning with a 2 hour sail boat ride from Gateway of India with your friends or that special someone! Pack some breakfast with you to enjoy along with the views of the Mumbai skyline and the sea.
  2. When back onshore, explore the area around the iconic Gateway of India and don’t forget to take some pictures with the famous TAJ hotel in background
  3. Guess what, Colaba causeway is just a 10 min walk from the Taj and starts right below Café Mondegar. Drop by to hoard on some junk silver jewelry, some really cheap export reject clothes or some unique antiques and art pieces. Do not forget to bargain like the locals! The general rule is to quote 50% of the ask price
  4. I am sure by now you must have built up an appetite. Time to Try out some authentic Parsi food at the oldest café of Mumbai – Britannia café. Think no more and order the berry Pulao and you will not regret! Their caramel custard is pretty popular too!
  5. Next, head over to Kala Ghoda to explore the area on foot, while appreciating the artsy displays on one side, and the Victorian buildings on the other. Talk to some of the street artists here, you will be surprised at how friendly they are, and how eager to share their stories. If you find out an interesting place like this museum we bumped into, don’t shy away from getting in to take a closer look. We found this one of a kind tilting tree in this museum
  6. When you get tired of all the walking, stop by at a local juice parlor to enjoy some sugarcane juice or try out the Chai from a roadside tapir. Chai is love!
  7. Next, headover to the historic CST railway station, to checkout the architecture of the headquarters of central railways. It is hard to believe from the façade that it is actually a railway station! Looks even more gorgeous in the evening lights!
  8. From here, let us try to catch a play at the city’s oldest and most renowned theaters – the Prithvi theater. Here you will definitely come across some of the well known TV and theater artists watching the play with you.
  9. For dinner, headover to Khaugalli in Ghatkopar or the street vendors outside Mithibai college to try out the famous Gini dosa and some of the gigantic sandwiches they offer. Words fall short to describe how heavenly these are!
  10. Why not end the day on a sweet note? Make a last stop Naturals, a 30 year old ice cream parlor chain to try out their natural fruit flavors. Tender coconut is my absolute favorite! Guess what, you can also pack some for friends and family back home, in their dry ice packing boxes.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Things To Do in Sri Lanka - Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park - Why Visit Sri Lanka if you will not watch some Elephants?

Frankly, when I was planning my trip to Sri Lanka, the first thing I searched for was where to best see some elephants! There were a couple of places that popped out from my research. First of course, the famous Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on the way from Colombo to Kandy. Well, this to me stood out as a touristy thing to do, because it is right in the middle of two popular cities and hence easy for tour companies to take you here. However, on probing more, I found these are actually chained and tortured animals! Well, I was not going to be a part of THAT!

So I kept looking. The second place that popped up was the Yala National Park. Now, this is a national park. Elephants are probably not the only animals you would see here, but you would definitely spot some. And if you are lucky you could spot a leopard too! Well, I am all for wildlife, so kept this option open and decided to search a little more.

It is then that Minneriya National Park came to my notice. The pictures, with its beautiful large lake and herds of elephants happily munching on the green grass and some drinking water from the lake, instantly stole my heart. And although having to visit this place meant taking a slight detour from the central and southern part of Sri Lanka (which is the popular route most tourists would take) and 2 additional days into our itinerary, I just could not give this place up. Because who knows when I will get a chance to visit this country again!

How Gorgeous do The Clouds Look - Minneriya National Park

About the Park
So the park is centered around a huge lake, which also happens to be the primary water source for animals inside – primarily some birds, monitor lizards, cranes, wild buffaloes, and of course some magnificent elephants! These come out into the lake in the mornings and the evenings, probably to just chill? And eat and drink. And that is the best way to spot them!

Where to Stay
Well, if you want to visit Minneriya National Park, you could stay in a homestay or a hotel in the Sigiriya area or Habarana. The number of homestays are enormous, but the number of hotels aren’t too many. Per night stay should cost you LKR 2000-4000 for homestays and LKR 10,000 – 15,000 for hotels. There is a Cinnamon lodge, a very poplar hotel chain in Habarana as well.

The Cutest Animal Family Ever! Shot at Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka

Other nearby places to visit
Well, if you come to this place, you should make good use of this time to visit a few of the nearby places as well. The first and most important being the Sigiriya Lion Rock. It is actually a Unesco declared World Heritage Site and has a lot of history associated with it. It looks like the sets of Bahubali to me :P So historic and ancient!
There are also the Dambulla cave temples and the Habarana lake, which is not as commercialized. The ancient ruins of Pollonaruwa is about 60 Km from here and is a day trip away from here. So if you have some time, keep a day aside to check the ruin out here.

Entry Fees
Price to enter per person is about LKR 3,100. You cannot go inside without a jeep, so be prepared to pay LKR 4,000 for a jeep safari as well. Yeah, this place is not for the frugal. The good news though is that the jeeps  are charged per vehicle and not per person, letting you achieve some economies of scale. If you are not in a group, reach the place early and you will be able to partner with another couple to split the costs of the jeep!

Best time of Day to visit
Well, they have jeep safari s running one in the morning  7:00 AM and other in the afternoon 3:30 PM. I personally visited in the afternoon, and absolutely loved the sunset colors and the weather. Plus, I feel there are more elephants in the afternoon. Although, if you are a morning person, you could go for the morning tour as well. I am definitely not, and hence, morning was not even an option for me!

All About the Tour
The park can be explored in Jeep Safaris and the tour takes about 2-2.5 hours. Usually the jeep would take you through a bumpy road deep into the forest where all of a sudden it opens up into a large open space. By now you will start to notice a huge water body and dots of animals, which, upon driving closer would make you realize are herds of elephants. You cannot get down from the jeep but sit in and soak in the peace and serenity of the place, click loads of pictures. Good thing is the jeeps are open. So you can stand up and get an unobstructed view.

May be after 30-40 mins of elephant watching, the jeep will take you even further, to spot some more animals, and then on the way back, make a stop at the Watch Tower. The view from here is notmuch different from what you would have already witnessed, so you can totally give the Watch Tower a miss, especially if you don’t like climbing.

So these are some of my tips and tricks to witness the magnificent Sri Lankan elephants in their natural habitat. I personaly am glad I added 2 days to my itinerary to visit this park, because it was worth every penny and every bit of struggle. I mean we visited the park on the day we landed after not sleeping overnight, but just the sight of these content animals surrounded by greenery made my entire Sri Lanka trip worth it. Definitely the highlight of our 10 days in Sri Lanka!

To take a look at our detailed itinerary, click here.
And to know a few more general Sri Lanka tips and tricks click here.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I will be more than happy to answer!

Friday, January 12, 2018

10 days in Sri Lanka - Itinerary From my Sri Lanka Holidays 2017

Sri Lanka Holidays 2017 - Photos on Google Pixel 2
Let me begin by saying that 10 days is not even close to being enough to explore this stunning country! But if that is all the time you can afford to be out of office, then let us read this article to make the most of those time offs, shall we? Sri Lanka tourism has been booming and there is a good reason for it!

So when I made up my mind that I have to visit Sri Lanka, frankly I was starting with a blank slate, and did not have much idea about all that the country has to offer. Well, I knew Sri Lanka beaches are the best in the world and Sri Lanka tea is world famous. When I did more research I got to know there will be beautiful train journeys, elephants and a lot of history. But it is only when I got to actually framing my itinerary it hit me hard – Gosh! 10 days is too less!

Major FOMO caught up and sort of compelled me to build my Sri Lanka itinerary such that I get all the flavors in these 10 days. Which meant seeing the best of Sri Lanka while still letting our vacation be a vacation. We did not want to commit to doing too much and in the process, exerting ourselves and coming back home more tired than when we left off! Which also meant a lot of research. So I thought why not share the wisdom, and save you guys some of your valuable time! So here we go…

Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Day 1
Land in Colombo. Checkout some key tips and tricks here for some must do things before leaving the Colombo airport. Once you are ready, take your cab and drive to Sigiriya. It is a 3-4 hour drive. There is a good chance that you have landed at the airport early in the morning, so you would probably reach Sigiriya in the afternoon just in time for a late lunch. Oh, and if you feel hungry before, grab some snacks and bottled water on the way. What snacks to buy you ask? Sri Lanka has these amazing not-to-miss ginger biscuits! Oh and catch some sleep in the cab!

Once in the hotel, take an hour or two to have lunch and freshen yourselves up a bit. Head straight over to Minneriya National Park after that and make sure to reach maximum by 4 PM.  You might feel tired, but I promise the herds of elephants drinking water from the breathtaking lake in the middle of the park will more than make up for it. It is peaceful beyond what my words can describe, so I will not even try. This should take you till about 6:30 PM and by 7 you can be back to your hotel for an early dinner. Not much goes on in the city after sunset. Make use of this to catch up on some sleep and invigorate yourself for a busy Day 2!

Chilling with Elephants - Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka

Day 2
Ready to climb 1200 stairs to reach the top of the Sigiriya rock? Well, don’t blame me – I told you to get good rest yesterday night! You will need all the energy you have today – so start with a carb heavy breakfast, before you start the climb. And brace yourselves to fight with some serious human traffic if your Day 2 happens to be on a weekend or a holiday. The trick here is to start as early as possible. Hating me already? Well don’t yet. I will give you enough reasons throughout the rest of the day J

If my estimations are right, you should be back from the rock by lunch time. Feel free to grab a small bite, because guess what, I am making you climb another 200 stairs to go checkout the Dambulla cave temple! Remember I told you I will give you enough reasons to hate me? This was a unique experience, to see so many idols of Gautam Buddha lined up within these small caves. On your way down from here, you might want to help yourself to some coconut water or some raw mangoes – it can get really hot during this time of the day in Sri Lanka.

I will leave the rest of the day to you to roam around and enjoy the small town vibe in Sri Lanka. But wait! Would strongly recommend you check out the sunset from the Habarana lake. I am still perplexed why this lake is NOT as commercialized, but that is what makes it really peaceful out here – the mud brick roads, some tourists taking an Elephant ride, the solitary boats parked somewhere on the shore – the serenity of this place is overpowering, and a welcome change from the crowded touristy places of Dambulla and Sigiriya Rock.

Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka - Also Called the Lion Rock

Habarana Lake - Absolutely Peaceful Away from the Tourist Crowds

If you have a spare day after this, would be great to spend the day checking out the ruins of Pollonaruwa or Anuradhapura. We did not have that extra day, so we moved on to our next 
destination – Kandy!

Day 3
The drive from Sigiriya to Kandy should take about 2-3 hours. The two major tourist attractions in Kandy are the Temple of Tooth Relic and the Kandy Botanical Garden. There is also the Big Buddha statue. We were not very enthusiastic about the Botanical Garden, so instead we took our time strolling around the Kandy lake, walking around the city, looking for some nice eating places instead, after we were done with the Temple of Tooth Relic. But I will let you take a call on how to spend the day in this city! Walking around the Kandy lake is a must. Some western tourists might also find a cultural program show in the evening interesting!
Kandy Sri Lanka - View from One of The Hillocks

Kandy Lake

In Front of the Temple of Tooth Relic, Kandy

Day 4
Today you will be train traveling through some of the spectacular tea plantations, almost flying with the clouds to Ella or Nuwara Eliya. Keep an eye out for a lot of greenery, some water falls and some more majestic views of the tea plantation valleys on the way! Ella and Nuwara Eliya sort of have similar things to offer. Ella is more of a hippie small town, where as Nuwara Eliya is more of a family holiday kind of place. While I think including both in your Sri Lanka travel would be ideal, but we might have to stick to just 1 if we are restricted by a 10 day itinerary.

The train ride to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy takes about 4 hours and it is another 3 hours from there to Ella. I have loads of tips and tricks on what to do and what not during this train journey, but I will save those for another dedicated post. However, let me tell you here that we ended up going to Ella, because I am and will always be a small town girl!

It will probably be almost 4 PM by the time you reach Ella. So take some time to check into your hotel, freshen up a bit, before you head out to the city center for some dinner and just soak in the bohemian vibe of the place. Ella is a really small town and there is a good chance you will be able to cover everything on foot. Although, if you need there are ample Tuktuks available around.

Stunning Views From the Train from Kandy to Ella

Day 5
Does the stunning views of the green valleys around you give you that mushy feeling already? J Well, today might be another hiking day. So time to have a carb heavy breakfast again! My research tells me there are two main hikes in the town. One – Little Adam’s peak and two – the Ella Rock. Well the climb to Ella Rock is for the adventurous and takes about 6 hours in total. The climb to Little Adam’s Peak is relatively easier and for people like me. No points for guessing which one we chose!

On the way back from the Little Adam’s Peak, take a detour to check out the Nine Arches Bridge. If you time yourself well, you might even be able to see the train crossing by – gave me serious Harry Potter feels J  Well, over here, I will refrain from sharing the train timings, because the truth is, on asking different sets of people we got different answers. Sometimes the Sri Lanka train is late as well, but there are a lot of local shops around and they should be able to help you with the next train to be crossing by.

You might have to go down some weird ways to reach the viewing point for the train. But don’t even think about coming back up. I would strongly recommend you go down to the rail tracks, click loads of pictures, and then walk along the rail tracks back to Ella. Sounds fun, right? It is a 40 minute walk, and should build up enough appetite for lunch, by the time you reach the city center.

The rest of the day is for you to relax and unwind, but I would recommend you visit the Halpwethatha Tea factory if you can. If not for the extra knowledge and demonstration of how tea is made, for the spectacular views from up there! This one is slightly far from the city and a Tuktuk should cost you around LKR 1,000 for a round trip.

Little Adam's Peak

On the Rail Tracks Walking Back to Ella

The Gorgeous Views of the Train Crossing Nine Arches Bridge

Okay, enough hikes for one holiday. I promise, now on, it will just be beaches, good food, some sunlight and a lot of chilling!

Day 6
On our way to Mirissa today, we can have a quick pit stop at the Ravana Falls because it is right on the way. If you are visiting in summers, budget some time to take a dip into the Fairy Pools here. We however, were there in December, so we chose to start slightly late instead!

Let me take a moment here to specify that there are a couple of other beach towns you could choose to stay in – Weligama, Matara, Tangalle, Bentota. However, we chose Mirissa because not only it has one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka but also for its close proximity to whale watching. And boy! Are we not glad we did that! Actually our resort was in Matara which is 10 KM away from the main Mirissa beach town.

The drive from Ella to Mirissa should take you around 5 hours with a short lunch break in between. Spend today to just stroll around, probably grab some coconut water, have a few drinks in one of the many beachside shacks.

Mirissa Beach Sri Lanka

Day 7
Let us start the day with some whale watching, shall we? The tours will leave the shore at 7:30 AM sharp, so better be on time. Good thing is, they serve breakfast for you in the boats, so you can save some time there! You should have pre-booked tickets for this, especially in the busy seasons of Dec to March, or else everything might just be sold out. And trust me, you don’t want to miss out on those gorgeous Blue Whales diving into the ocean flaunting their tails high!

The whale watching tour gets you back to the shore by say 11. The rest of the day is for you to go into the water, soak in the sunlight, cool yourself with some coolers, and basically just do nothing! This has finally started to sound like a vacation, hasn’t it!

Relaxing At the Matara and Mirissa Beach

Day 8
Another day to relax and chill and have some nice Sri Lankan food, may be some ice cream later in the day. How does THAT make you feel? J Oh and make use of this time to do some snorkeling – you might be lucky enough to spot a turtle or swim with the fishes if you manage to hit the water by 9 AM!

Day 9
This day is for us to explore the Galle Fort. This is a residential fort along the beach. Gorgeous views of the Light House and the Watch Tower. You will also find some local handicrafts being sold inside the fort here and there. While roaming around, if you feel the need to rejuvenate yourself amongst the heat, try to unwind in one of the cute cafes!

The drive from Mirissa to Galle is around 2 hours and budget 3-4 more hours to explore the Galle fort. After that, head back directly from Galle to Colombo. I am guessing you should have checked into your hotel by 3 PM. If not, try to by starting early!

Galle Fort - The Water Was As Turquoise as it Could Get

Well, there are definitely a few touristy things to do in Colombo. But mostly it is a city. You know what you should NOT miss out on while in the city? Some shopping at the ‘House of Fashion’. Well, I would not usually associate Sri Lanka with fashion, but this place is crazy. I found some amazing skirts for 500- 600 LKR. My husband got branded shirts (Van Heusen, Zara) for 1,900 LKR. Beat that?

Talking of shopping, don’t miss out checking out one of the many ‘Barefoot’ stores in the city. Well, it is a designer store and everything is priced pretty steep. But you don’t need to buy anything if you don’t want to – just stroll around to check out the marvelous pieces, each of which are eye candy to say the least! I have never seen a shop so colorful. You could also while away some time in their cute café. God, this place just had me! Not the best food, but the vibes?

If you have some more time at hand, try to check out the Galle Green Face. Don’t let the name fool you, it is in Colombo and not in Galle. It is somewhat like Juhu beach with a lot of street vendors selling Sri Lankan snacks and food, and bustling with people, both tourists and locals whiling their time away!

Day 10
Well, every good thing comes to an end. If your flight is slightly late in the day, you could let some of the activities from previous night spill into today. Because let’s be honest here. I DID make last night pretty tight for you, didn’t I?

If you have an early flight on the contrary, just reflect on all the memories you created. And I am sure you will be left wishing the trip did not have to end so soon. But hey, never too soon to plan your next trip already!

I hope you found this 10 days itinerary of Sri Lanka useful and feel free to shoot any questions in the comment section below. Also, checkout Top 10 Tips and Tricks for First Time Travelers in Sri Lanka to do a little prep!

Follow me on my other social media which has more real time updates and lots of travel pictures and videos J

See you later with more details on each of the destinations in separate blogs! There will details on places to eat, places to stay and a lot more tips and tricks. What do you want me to start with? Leave me a comment?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Top 10 Tips for Sri Lanka Travel - Tips and Tricks from my Travel Diaries

FrooGal at Mirissa Beach

I have wanted to travel to Sri Lanka ever since I was doing my MBA. Probably because that was the only exotic place my budget would allow. 3 years later we finally made an impromptu plan to visit the country for new year’s last year (2017). Booked our tickets a month before the trip and left it to fate for everything else J

Let me begin by saying, if you thought the country is only about tea plantations and gorgeous beaches, you were wrong. It is about so much more than that – the tropical fruits, the temples, the people, the train journeys! No wonder it has become one of the top places to celebrate New year’s in! However, there are a few things we need to keep in mind to make full use of our time in the Sri Lanka and leave all worries behind. This article is going to be exactly about those tips and tricks!

The Beautiful Tea Estates of Sri Lanka

Tip #1 – Carry Cash!
Bigger restaurants and hotels will accept cards here, but it is still a very cash dependent country. Many local shops selling local snacks and water bottles would accept only cash. It might also be cheaper for you to withdraw cash from an ATM and not swipe your card everywhere, because there is usually a fixed fee on every transaction. I found it cheapest to withdraw the maximum cash that an ATM would allow using my US Debit card (you can use an Indian card too) and then pay cash everywhere. Each transaction would charge a fee of 300 – 500 LKR. Money exchange counters are readily available in all banks in all the cities, so you could also get your dollar or pound bills converted easily and at a very competitive rate. Or you could do so at the Colombo airport when you land, for more convenience. The rate would be 3-4% higher, but hey! Better than roaming around the city trying to find a money exchange, right?

Tip #2 – Master the Sign Language!
Language is a bit of a barrier in the country. Only a select few know English well enough to be able to understand you well enough to give you the right road directions. Well, the sooner you master your sign language, the better off you will be here! If you are lucky, you will find an English speaking Chauffeur. But even then, be prepared to talk slowly and increase your patience level. Because they will act like they have understood what you had to say, and then end up taking you to the wrong place! It can get frustrating at times, but these are the little somethings which make a vacation memorable, right?

FrooGal at Halpe Tea Factory - Soaking in the View

Tip #3 – Buy a sim at airport
Let’s be real. Most of us are updating their Snapchats and Instagram stories real time when traveling. And we have all gotten used to Whatsapp calling back home so much that life seems incomplete without that app on our smartphones. So stay connected and get yourself a SIM card right at the Colombo airport when you land. They are not at all expensive. Both Mobitel and Dialog are good ones. I paid 1,300 LKR for 200 minutes of India calling and 8 GB of data (only 4 GB during the day time and 4 GB after 12 AM). Totally helped me stay connected on my Instagram and gain 200 followers over the 9 day trip! :D Did you even visit the place if you did not post a good picture from there?

Tip #4 – Carry Toilet Paper and Use Bottled Water
Most public toilets (even the one at Colombo Airport!) are not super well maintained, and there is a good chance that they are out of toilet paper. Well hygiene comes first, so feel free to carry your own Toilet seat sanitizer, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, anything that you deem necessary for your personal hygiene.

Bottled water is cheap and easily available as well. No reason not to buy them! Sri Lanka is also and humid country. I went in December end, and even then found myself sweating in most places during the day time. So can I also take this opportunity to request everyone to carry water stay well hydrated please? Well, if you think a bottle would weigh you down, the good news is, King Coconut is available everywhere! Have one every time you are thirsty. It is healthy and oh so refreshing!

FrooGal at Ella Rail Tracks - Have not Something As Exciting in a Long Time

Tip #5Eat like the Locals!
Visiting the country from India, I imagined that the food here would be nothing unique. I was pleasantly surprised to realize otherwise. Yes they use spices, just like we Indians, but yet each of their dishes had so much more to offer than just that. I would say it has a very distinct Malay influence in majority of their dishes. One fascinating thing, they can make any sort of dish with coconuts! Coconut sambal, a spicy grated coconut dish, to coconut roti, which is a typical Sri Lankan coconut bread, there is not one dish I did not enjoy! Some must tries – coconut roti, prawn curry and rice, Kothu (chopped roti with vegetables and meat), Sri Lankan rolls, and Kabul roti.

Tip #6 – Take the Train!
Sri Lanka has a very good and really cheap train service. Just to give you an example, our train journey from Kandy to Ella (7 hours) cost us just LKR 210, which is less than $2! First class tickets are slightly more expensive, but still relatively very cheap! Be prepared however, to fight for a seat in 2nd class, especially in the super popular routes like trains to Ella, Nuwara Eliya and between Kandy and Colombo.

Well, they have buses in many routes too. I did not take the bus when there, but did not look like they have luggage space in buses. They are super cheap as well, but if traveling with a lot of luggage, I would recommend to avoid. Instead, go for the cabs and cars which are usually chauffeur driven! It is one luxury you should allow yourself, especially if you are from the West, because we all know how expensive it can get to hire a chauffeur there! Approximate cost would be around $50 per day with a daily cap at 150km. For each extra kilometer, you might have to pay a little extra. I paid 0.3 USD per Kilometer. If you pre-book through travel agents, you might get a slightly higher rate, but you should never argue for anything above $65 a day. However, it is easy to hire a taxi/cab once you land from one of the city travel agents to save a few bucks!

Train Crossing the Nine Arches Bridge at Demodara, Ella, Sri Lanka - What a grand sight!

Tip #7 – Focus on Tropical Fruits!
Well, if you are one of those fussy healthy eaters whose major regret when traveling is all the junk food that comes with it, guess what, you are in luck in Sri Lanka. The country knows its fruits well, and don’t miss a chance to flaunt it. Be it for breakfast, or with coconut roti, or as dessert after the main meals. You will find some nice, sweet and juicy fruits around you always. If not on your plate, then on the displays in the local shops! Oh and their bananas, not sure what is unique about them, but they are the small ones and taste so different and so much more flavorful compared to the big ones we usually get in India! I literally wanted to get a couple dozens back home. Too bad they are perishable L

Tip #8 – Always Bargain with the Tuktuks!
Well, there is no Uber in Sri Lanka outside Colombo, as of the time I am penning this article down. So Tuktuks are your best friend if you want to travel short distances. Good news is they are very easily available. The bad news is, they might quote an unreasonable price from you in the beginning. I would say as a general rule, try to bring him down to LKR 200 for short distances like a 10 min and 3 Km ride, and LKR 500 to slightly longer distances like a 25 min and 7-8 Km ride. Even though this also might seem steep to a lot of us, I personally was not able to get a better deal than this. But hey, worth a shot if you are a better bargain-er than me! J

What not to Miss in Sri Lanka - Lots of Tropical Fruits!

Tip #9 – Try local snacks
I don’t know about you, but for me, in addition to local food, scanning the super markets at any new place I visit has become a tradition, and a hobby. I feel like that is how you discover some new and exciting local snacks! And what are vacations if you don’t indulge yourself a bit?

One of the most interesting things I found in the Sri Lankan super markets is Ginger cookies. Fell in love with them so hard that I got home a few packets of them. They are sweet yet spicy. And while I have had ginger cookies in India, they were definitely not this yummy, or this cheap! Some other things to try are their savory snacks and namkeens, most of which are super spicy. They have a lot of jiggery based products too. Oh and don’t even think of buying the western snacks there, like Lays Chips, because they are super expensive in the country. Sri Lanka sure knows how to promote their local goods. I am not complaining J

For some reason, orange based snacks seemed to be all over the place in the country as well. From orange based chocolates to orange bits in their cookies. I love the citrus smell of oranges, so needless to say, I felt as if in paradise!  

Tip #10 – Don’t pay extra for Online Visa
By now, you may have already figured that traveling to Sri Lanka needs an online Visa only. When I was trying to search for the website to apply for Visa, instead of the official website, this other travel website popped up first which was charging me an additional fee. I was a little taken aback, did my research and got to know it is a travel agent. They have probably marketed themselves well, and hence their site comes before the official website on Google. It cannot be taken down because it is not a fraudulent website. But they charge extra for making your Visa, which is not really needed. Because it is the same form you are filling up!

But now you know, so be a smart traveler like me, okay?

The official website you should be booking from -
The travel website you should NOT be booking from -

Thank me later!

I hope you found this articke useful – leave me a comment if you have any questions on your Sri Lanka trip. I am planning to write my next article on an ideal itinerary within 9-10 days in this beautiful country so stay tuned for that!

5 Things to do in Pondicherry

Pondicherry was worth all the hype and more! This is a beautiful French town in India known for its beaches, food and Fench quarters. I...