Bijaipur & Udaipur

The night prior to staying in Bijaipur was our rest stop, a glamping site and I had an epic nap, read a lot and slept.

Our stay in Bijaipur was in a castle – the trip titled “Classic Rajasthan,” meant that it was Classic in the sense of the royalty surrounding the state. There wasn’t a great deal to do there apart from walking around the village and I really think that the company could’ve interpreted the “classic” in different ways, not just staying in fancy places.

Moving on from Bijaipur, we went to Udaipur. After checking into the hotel we went out for lunch where I had Paneer Koftas, then moved onto the City Palace with a guided tour for around an hour and a half – one of the biggest palaces in India.

After visiting the palace and another nap, we headed off to the river to have a sunset ride which was pretty nice. For dinner I saw tandoori chicken tikka and couldn’t help but to have a day off not eating meat, and it was glorious, with a G&T which made it even better. For dessert we had the Indian dessert, Kheer, which is rice pudding with saffron, condensed milk, ground nuts and sugar.

The following day was our free day so I went to a cooking class, which was interesting. I learnt how to make Marsala Chai, Pilau Rice, Chapatis, an Okra dish, a vegetarian potato dish and a daal. I then went on to get my palm read just for fun. Apparently, I’m supposed to face east every Tuesday for twelve weeks and chant, fast every Saturday only eating one meal and to put water in a copper cup overnight and drink it each morning. Obviously, all of which I’m not going to do. He did tell me a few interesting things – apparently I could have two daughters but he can see from my palm that I don’t like children (I’m thinking maybe these daughters are kittens?), that I’m due to start feeling old at around 75 despite my back making me feel as though I’m 75 at the age of 24 and I’m to live into my 80s.

 

 

Ranthambore & Bundi

From Jaipur we moved onto Ranthambore to take part in a game drive, which I wasn’t impressed by. It was uncomfortable on the track with my back – a lot rougher than the ones in Africa. There was a lot of protruding foliage twatting me in the face and I ended up covered in dirt. We didn’t see any tigers, but instead a sloth bear which is rarer than the tigers.

The following day we headed off to Bundi- upon arriving I had a three hour long nap and our guide had to come and get me from my room to go and see Bundi Palace, as well as the town. We’d already seen a few palaces so far, as well as spending ten weeks in Asia, but this one was definitely worth a visit. We’d stopped off at a stairwell before and through the market after. The highlight for me was on the way back to the hotel, seeing a group of cows just chilling in the middle of the traffic, forcing traffic to go around.

Madhogarh & Jaipur

From Agra we went to a village called Madhogarh. There’s a fort where we stayed the night which had a very famous Bollywood movie director checking it out during our stay. On the way there, looking out of the air-conditioned car window, I saw actual poverty with people who could not have access to sanitation, proper/safe nutrition, shelter, education etc. It really hit home how lucky I am to simply have been born where I was and the challenges that the poor people have here are not ones I will ever have to face.

Once in Fort Madhogarh we were given time just to wander around the premises and to have lunch. In the evening we popped into the village where there’s kids playing in the street, and begging the tourists to take their photo, as they enjoy seeing their picture straight after. I can only imagine what would happen in the UK and Australia if people were taking pictures of other peoples children in the streets.

We moved onto Jaipur afterwards, stopping at the Amer Fort on the way. Again, we had a tour guide specifically for the Fort, telling us the functions of everything inside. When you’ve been to a few of these kind of places, they all feel the same. My favourite place inside was the Mirror Palace.

Moving on, we went to a tailoring place, endorsed by Intrepid. This kind of place likes to make you buy something, showing us various kinds of duvets, blankets, tablecloths, jackets, scarves, the list goes on. I was tempted by a duvet because no matter how much I travel, bed is one of my favourite places so it’s worth making an investment. However, without owning a bed or even having a fixed address, I passed.

The next stop was Hawa Mahal, the outside of the building is allegedly heaps better than what is on the inside, so had a quick stop to take pictures before heading to the hotel, where we didn’t do much else besides eat dinner.

After a lay in the following morning we had a look around the market which wasn’t completely open, though did have a quick samosa stop with some kachoori thrown in too, before heading to a jewellers and dropped back to the hotel and left to our own devices. I had to go to an ATM, passing a place for some lassi. Whilst crossing the road someone came up to me trying to sell me stuff that I do not want. When he asked where I’m from what seemed to be the perfect opportunity to make him go away turned to shit – he asked me where I’m from and the first place that came to mind was Germany. He gave me a sales pitch in German and I didn’t understand any of it. I have a feeling that next time I should pretend to be Polish.

I went to the City Palace, not staying too long as it was hot and had a really nice tuk tuk driver on the way back, asking me what he should expect for visiting Europe for the first time later this year. Apparently everyone has told him to be prepared for the cold. During the evening we went out for a vegetarian restaurant for dinner and had the nicest meal I’ve had so far (I got our guide to choose my meal), finished with an Indian rice pudding. Our guide took us to a traditional Rajistani sweet shop afterwards and I let him pick for me, which he seemed really excited to do.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

In Agra there’s not just the Taj Mahal but also the Red Fort, featured on the back of some of the bank notes. If there’s one thing I’ve not been able to do recently, it’s been getting out of bed before 11am but getting up at 5 wasn’t as bad as I had expected.

After a two hour train ride we arrived in Agra and straight away went to the Red Fort, with our private guide who told us about the history behind it and how it functioned mainly with the Indian royalty, but also with British soldiers.

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After the Red Fort we went to a carpet making center. The tour company put it in the itinerary as handmade carpets don’t get made too much. They want to be able to support these businesses to help prevent it from dying out, so fair enough. It’s interesting to watch people make them and to hear the amount of time it takes to make them, but it is awkward when you are technically homeless like myself, have nowhere to put a au$1000+ rug and having people just present a lot of rugs at you.

After lunch at the hotel and chilling for a couple of hours we went to the Taj Mahal. The last few years I’ve seen some of the most famous places in the world – the Sydney Opera House, Sangrada Familia, the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, etc., so it doesn’t really hit me to see things in the flesh anymore. With that said, it is very impressive and well worth the visit.

During the evening I went out for dinner with one of the guys on the tour as well as the tour guide. The place we went to is well known for BBQ food, and I am trying to stay off meat whilst I’m here. I had Paneer Tikka, which is spiced BBQ’d cheese with naan which was great.

Delhi

From Malaysia to Delhi was a five and a half hour flight – a lot longer than I’d expected. I didn’t get up to much in KL, though I’ll post some pictures within the next couple of weeks. I got to the hotel around half 8, but went to bed when I arrived.

Yesterday was the day prior to the tour group meeting. I was pretty hesitant about going out alone as India does not have the best reputation for safety for a foreign woman alone so I booked a tour. The choices were food, New Delhi or Gandhi’s Delhi – I’d definitely be eating local food on this trip with the help from a guide, and I’m going to be visiting places similar to what is included in the Delhi tour, so I opted for Gandhi’s Delhi as it’d be the most unique one.

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It was just the guide and I so our first stop was the place where Gandhi was cremated, and Sammy, my guide, took me over the early stages of his life and how he died. I had planned to read his autobiography on the flight over here but I got distracted by the Lord of the Rings movies on the entertainment system. Nowadays it’s a historical monument so is protected by fencing but it’s interesting that the flowers decorating the slab where he was cremated are changed every day.

Next we moved onto a stepwell, which is unrelated but served the purpose during monsoons to contain clean water for households. It’s no longer used for those purposes but now it’s a hangout place, there’s been movies filmed there and it’s a popular spot for people bunking classes as it’s fenced off. Whilst we were being driven to places Sammy told me a lot of information about the area and about Gandhi’s non-violent philosophies, and some of the major events in his life.

We’d stopped off to get some food – starting off with a samosa and some chai, which honestly is one of the best things I’ve ever drank. This was followed by a dessert called gulab jamun; it’s a semolina ball with nuts, spices including cardamom, deep fried in butter and served in a sugar syrup. I knew if the food was like this all along I’d be in for a treat.

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After the samosa pit stop we went to the museum of Gandhi, where he spent his last 144 days before being assassinated. They’ve left his few possessions there including his bedroom, glasses, flip flops and walking stick. There’s too much information there for me to take in, especially on a hot day and Sammy highlighted the major bits.

In the garden there, his final footsteps have been marked along with an alter right where he lost his life. It’s a very well maintained area and very quiet in comparison to the rest of Delhi that I’ve seen.

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Today, the group went on a tour of Old Delhi, starting at the Hama Masjid Mosque, and then a Sikh temple, both of which were pretty standard in terms of places of worship – I may still be templed out from Cambodia. We then had a stop at the spice market, then back to the hotel to chill for a few hours. We signed up for a street food tour with the company for tonight which I’ve recently arrived back from, and I feel as though I would still need an uber to walk a couple of blocks. In addition to the food in the pictures below we also ate Samosas, Kulfi (saffron ice cream with nuts) and Momos (Nepalese Dumplings).

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Chapati making in the Sikh temple

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Paneer Shawarma
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Golgappa
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Pao Bhaji
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Gulab Jamun

Tomorrow we’re off to Agra where the Taj Mahal is located for a one night stay.

Siem Reap and Temple Hopping in a Tuk Tuk

I travelled to Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh Airport; I could’ve taken a bus but had to have proof that I was leaving Vietnam before arriving. On an unrelated note, it’s been said that I look very much like a meme of a cat. Out of all the places I could find this cat’s Instagram page, it was right before airport security. As the person checking my passport gave me the glare, all I could think was “shall I pull the cat face?” which made it really hard to keep a straight face (I couldn’t). For the tickets to the temples you have to have a photo taken for your pass so I just pulled the cat face there, hopefully that got it out of my system.

My first impression was that it is a lot less chaotic here in Siem Reap than in Vietnam, and so much easier to get around. On the way from the airport into the city the taxi driver would not stop texting, to the point where I wanted to ask him to let me drive and he could give me directions. After a quick nap I popped into the tourist area of the city to the markets – I saw someone setting up food on a stall attached to her motorbike, and then drove up the road. Not too sure if I’d like a side dish of exhaust fumes.

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Yesterday, I woke up at 3.45am to snooze for 20 minutes, and then to the temples via tuk tuk. First stop was Angkor Wat for sunrise, then to Ta Prohm, and then a few smaller ones before finishing at Angkor Thom. Ta Prohm was one of the places where Tomb Raider was filmed and gave a lot of attention to Cambodia through the movies. I asked the driver what Cambodians thought of the movies as I guessed that westerners coming over here and to flood the temples whilst people are worshipping would cause some kind of disruption, but it seems as though from what he said that the Cambodians just like to see people enjoy their country.

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Sim, the driver, is also an expert Instagram-style photographer in the temples that he’s allowed into, and he knows a lot about them too. I also have heaps of pictures. Literally heaps. He has a Facebook page which can be used to rent his tuk tuk, and if anyone reading this wants a recommendation, his page is here.

The temples were great though it was a hot day, reaching 33 degrees and nearing 80% humidity but well worth getting up at 4.30am. I really liked visiting Ta Prohm as the environment is growing on the temples, so you can see the trees growing up them, which definitely made it feel like I was far away from home.

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Today I went to Angkor National Museum to get more of an understanding of these temples, and a lot of it is based around two religions I don’t know a lot about – Hinduism and Buddhism – I definitely felt as though I deserved my grade G in GCSE RE. Different kings used different style of architecture to build these temples with symbolism from religion. Some of the pieces on display are dated from the 10th century, obviously made without any technology or transportation like we have today. Whenever I see things like this, I’m always reminded that I will quite happily buy a sandwich if I can’t be arsed to make one, yet a thousand years ago people were working tirelessly to construct these temples and the work inside.

It started raining whilst in the museum so I returned to the hostel to chill and watch some TV. I found a great restaurant nearby so I’ve eaten some awesome Cambodian food over the past few days.

Overall, I’ve only spent three nights in Cambodia, but I have really enjoyed my stay here. As I want to get my back seen to in Malaysia before I go to India next weekend(!) I’ve had to keep my visit short but sweet, and it would’ve been nice to spend a week or two longer here. Since leaving Australia this is the eighth country I’ve been to, and whilst I can’t judge the country on two whole days in one place, it’s the one so far I’d pick to come back to next time I’m in Asia.

Ho Chi Minh

My last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, with just one full day here. It seemed as though the hostel managed to make a cock up my reservation, meaning that I get a double bed in a dorm for US$17 for two nights. I can’t complain.

I set out to go to the War Museum today, it’s three floors and an outdoor area explaining the impact of the Americans due to the Vietnam War and the impact that it has had, which is still going on today — children are still being born with deformities and disabilities as a result of how the US fought. It didn’t paint the USA in the best light, though I feel as though it was unbiased, just like the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. On the way there, I had to walk into oncoming traffic as the pavement was blocked – it’s not that uncommon, and it’s usually a restaurant with tables taking up the entire pavement, or parked motorbikes. This time, it was because someone decided to set up and chill in a hammock in the middle of the pavement.

After a few hours in the museum I just chilled – grabbed some food and drank a copious amount of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (seems to be ice with coffee). There’s a couple of other things I could’ve done, including touring the Cu Chi caves, though for me, it’d probably hurt my back. It’s one of the tours where you can just fire an AK47 with no prior training or safety brief, because why not.

It’s quite interesting in the area I’m staying as it’s gentrified to foreigners, and it seems that the only way these businesses seem to think they can get people in is to advertise that it’s happy hour. I know that I’ve been abroad and had many drunken nights, but it’s a shame to see drinking culture advertised so heavily here, where there’s many great things about Vietnamese culture that outshine getting pissed.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Cambodia. I have my own private room for the next few nights as I am ever so slightly completely 100% over being woken/kept up in hostel dorms almost, if not, every day for almost three months.

In some aspects I can see why people love Vietnam; the food is great, it’s cheap and the people are incredibly friendly, wanting you to enjoy the country. For me, I wouldn’t say I’m a massive fan; I like to travel without being attached to Google Maps to navigate, I really enjoy being able to cross the road without fearing for my life, and I guess I’ve stayed in hostels and shared accommodation for too long – I’m sitting at six months straight without my own room.

 

Hoi An

Before I came to Hoi An, I stayed in Da Nang for a couple of nights. There wasn’t a lot to do so I pretty much lounged around drinking coffee.

In Hoi An, there isn’t really that much to do that I want to – there’s beaches to cycle to but I neither want to get sunburn or cycle, there’s a temple supposedly similar to Angkor Wat, where I’m going this week, but there is a lantern festival on Sunday. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cafes, drinking watermelon juice and Vietnamese Coffee.

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On Saturday I did a food tour – it was quite a few outdoor stands in the street then into the company’s property where they cooked around half of the 44 tastings that we had. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as though I needed an Uber to walk two blocks after the tour.

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Black sesame

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This morning, I got picked up for a cooking class, where we first went to a market to get the produce for the menu items we’d chosen to cook prior. I chose BBQ fish wrapped in banana skin as it’s a method of cooking that I’ve not done before, and it’s pretty easy. I was having a think as to what to tell everyone in the class my job was as it gets old being hoarded with questions because I’m a chef. A professional gymnast and hostage negotiator did come to mind, but I accidentally told someone about work.

The way the class worked was that the teacher showed everyone how to prepare the proteins and then came individually to show us the next steps, then one by one we’d finish the dish. There were 13 of us, so the day did grow a bit long, but I’ve had neither lunch nor dinner.

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Tonight there is a full moon which means that the Lantern Festival is on. I’ve been down to the river for a bit, but after being there for 45 minutes I wanted to get away from the crowds.

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Hue

To get to Hue from Hanoi was a 14 hour overnight train ride, where I shared a room with a German couple, a Vietnamese lady and her dog which she allowed us to pet. I’ve shared hostel dorms with hundreds of other people by now as well as maybe a cat, but this dog was a lot preferable to a lot of people I’ve stayed in a room with.

After a coffee and some food I headed to the Imperial City. It was 36 degrees outside but I did manage to get around more or less the whole thing. As it was so hot, I lacked the brain power to be able to read and absorb the information displayed, though it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

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Today, I went on a tour to see the Summer Gardens, Padoga and three tombs of historic emperors. My Asian history isn’t too great, it’s too hot to take in much information so had a nice day out and about, without knowing too much of the historic meaning.

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I’m getting to the point now where I always “have to do something,” whether that be booking and getting to the transport, needing to download a map and a translator, make absolutely sure that I know how to get from A to B on travel days and even just out and about, knowing whether or not to trust taxi drivers and if so which ones, telling someone on the street that I don’t want to buy whatever shit they’re selling, the currency, exchange rate as not to get ripped off, getting to the other side of the road alive and in one piece, it feels like work and that’s where all my energy is going. I’m also going to play the female card, and say that being foreign, female and on my own pushes my guard up a lot more when it comes to trusting people.

I do want to go somewhere that’s familiar to me and I’m just wanting to go back to Europe for a bit. The week after next is my India trip which I’m excited for, and I’m so glad that I get to let someone else do all the work for planning that. In a few days time I’ll book a flight from India to Budapest and spend the time between that and the Egypt and Jordan trip in Eastern Europe, then I’ll decide where I go before heading off to New Zealand.

Ha Long Bay

Yesterday morning I went off to Ha Long Bay which the hostel had booked for me. It meant staying overnight on a boat, with my own room and the biggest double bed that I’ve ever slept in.

I’d been told that I’d get there by bus, however the streets around are too small to fit a bus down. A tour guide rocked up on a moped, told me to get on the back in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops with no helmet, and drove me through, and sometimes onto, the traffic to get the bus. I was bricking it, my travel insurance definitely would not cover that, and he was rather amused.

Over the past couple of days we’ve been into caves, climbed up to viewpoints and kayaked.

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