If you recall reading about my “Best experiences (travel andotherwise) of 2014”, I signed off by asking you to stay tuned for some exciting travel plans. The epic Thailand-Cambodia trip spilled over to January 2015 and that’s where I shall begin my travel round up of 2015:
The madness started with Christmas party at Ko Pha Ngan (renowned for Full Moon/ Half-moon parties), Gulf of Thailand.
The rains Gods were as wild as the crowds we encountered here. As it rained harder, the buckets and buckets of cocktails ensured that the party just gets crazier!
Then I headed back to school at Ban’s Diving Resort at Koh Tao to get my PADI certification. For 4 days we had a strict schedule – dive, study, eat pancakes and drink beer (yes, we strictly followed the schedule!).
Our trainer Chloe (a lovely French lady with the cutest kid!), was rather patient with my friends and me.
We all got OWD certification (certified to dive upto 18 mtrs below sea level!) and a friend stayed back at Koh Tao to finish his AOWD – super proud of you Mathew!
Thereafter, we brought in New Year at Ark’s Bar, Koh Samui with the sea breeze, amazing hookah and cocktails for company. Needless to say, it was epic.
To recover from the new-year hangover, we set-off for a day trip to Ang Thong Marine national park where we discovered pristine beaches and secret emerald lagoon! This marine park shot to fame in the Leonardo Di caprio movie, the Beach.
We then moved base to west coast of Thailand by arriving in Phuket, much later than scheduled. This place is super touristy and I immediately disliked the noise and the crowds.
Our day trip to Maya Bay (again featured in the movie the Beach) on the next day was a refreshing change, though not free from crowds, yet again! We spent another day doing touristy things in Phuket (temples, view-points, etc), eating global cuisine, visiting local markets and gearing up to fly to Siem Reap (super excited me!)!
After Siem Reap, we ended our trip in Bangkok. Staying at backpacker paradise, Khao San Road, was a great decision: tons of street food, late night karaoke (hindi songs included) and accessibility from the City Palace/ temples!
Since no Thailand trip is complete without shopping, we shopped-till-we-dropped on our last day! :D
I spent two days at Siem Reap. Day 1 was exclusively to explore Angkor Archaeological Park – sunrise, sunset and everything in between! Day 2 was chill-out day at Pub Street.
While two days are too short and there’s so much more to see in Cambodia, but I could definitely go back here just to see the sunrise on Angkor Wat.
It was magical to say the least!
Goa – twice over
I made two trips to Goa this year, one with friends and one as part of office trip.
The first trip comprised of visiting high-end eat-out joints, dressing up and clubbing till the wee hours.
The second trip was well spent at Radisson Blu, South Goa, followed by chilling all day at our own pool in the rented apartment in Calangute.
I also visited Palolem beach (South Goa) and Morjim beach (extreme North Goa); both of which were such a refreshing change from the done-to-death-beaches of North Goa.
Visiting Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
Tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, this tomb was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
I visited the tomb as a part of a 1-day quick trip to Delhi. As always, the architecture marvels of this city didn't fail to mesmerize me!
The edifice of the tomb complex is flanked by gardens on all four sides and the structure has an uncanny resemblance to the Taj Mahal, albeit the grandeur of marbles.
I highly recommend a day trip here, preferably go on a non foggy day to catch a glimpse of the tomb in the water moat in front of it!
Udaipur and around
I happily chanced upon the perfect extended weekend for a 5-day trip to Udaipur and around.
While Udaipur is romantic, idyllic and seeped in history, the highlight of my trip was visiting Kumbhalgarh and Chittorgarh Fort, both of which are part of the ‘Hill Forts of Rajasthan’ which are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage sites! Kumbhalgarh is arid, remote and impressive, while Chittorgarh is one of the largest forts in India and the jewel of Mewar region. Both these forts make for great day trips from Udaipur.
Also, I had no idea, but Holi in Udaipur is grand. All the action revolves around Jag Mandir, Old Udaipur area where the celebrations are enjoyed together by locals and tourists! It’s a true riot of colours!
Don’t believe those who say Ladakh is over-rated. Everywhere one looks the landscape is stunning, the monasteries are vibrant and warm people are warm. I don’t enjoy cold places, but I’m sold to Ladakh.
I flew to Srinagar, spent a day there exploring the Old Srinagar Area and then chilling on our lovely peacock houseboat at Nigeen Lake.
Then we drove to from Srinagar to Leh via Mulbekh (night-halt at a lovely homestay) on National Highway – 1.
There is so much to see/ experience along this highway: Lamayuru Monastery, Mulbekh Monastery, Magnetic Hills, Pathar Sahib Gurudrawa, etc.
Reading about the sacrifice of soldiers at the befitting memorial at Kargil was an intense experience. The highway also took us through high mountain passes (Fotu-La and Namik-La). By the time we got to Leh, we were well acclimatized.
Over next 6 days I experienced the phenomenon that is Pangong Tso Lake (complete with camping the night in tents, albeit luxury!).
This was followed by the vibrant colours and intriguing masks at the Hemis Monastery Festival, the thrill of rafting on Zanskar River, exploring Leh city, visiting Khardung-la (highest motorable road in India) and watching the hump-back camels at cold dessert at Nubra Valley.
My fore-fathers were originally from Konkan area of Maharashtra. My family and me made a quick trip to Harne-Murud to visit our family deity at Murud beach (near Dapoli).
It was just the end of monsoon and the drive through Western ghats was superb, lush green everywhere and ocassional rains.
For a change, we ditched the resorts at Murud beach and instead chose to stay at a homestay in Harne. The rooms were basic but the hosts are very friendly and offer delicious home meals to guests. And yes, the beach was just across from the homestay!
UNESCO circuit - Hampi & Pattadakal
I have been planning a trip to Hampi & Pattakal for a while now, but for reasons beyond my control, things didn’t work-out until Dussehra weekend.
Before the trip I was reeling in excitement at the thought of striking off two places off my UNESCO list. At the same time I was sceptical 16 hour bus ride from Mumbai to Hampi and afraid of being disappointed with the Hampi (high expectations can be lethal!).
To my relief; and even sheer delight, Hampi was better than I imagined.
The list of my favourite things about Hampi is endless: the temples, the ruins, the landscape smitten with boulders, coracle boat ride, sunsets by Sanapur Lake, etc.
However, the highpoint was staying at the Gopi Island on Virapurgadda, across the river from hampi bazaar.
What a chilled out place, friendly staff and good vibes!
The drive from Hampi to Pattadakal with sunflower/ cotton/ corn fields flanking both sides of the highway was lovely.
Group of temples of Pattadakal were good, but not as humbling as those at Hampi. Neverthless, a must-visit if you’re in Hampi.
Quick stop at Bangalore
Lucky for me, we went to Bangalore from Hampi, potentially eliminating 11-13 hours of bus journey to Mumbai. Bangalore was all about reuniting with cousins, eating lots of delicious food (breakfast thali from Anand Bhawan, lunch at Toit, dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf and ice cream sundae at Movenpick for snacks – yes snacks)!
After the heat of Hampi, the nip in the air at Bangalore was refreshing! If I had the time, I’d have loved to revisit Mysore, alas, next time now!
Dubai - Jewel of middle east
I am lucky to work in a global accounting firm. This gave me an opportunity to attend a 3 day training in Dubai. While it was my third trip to U.A.E., it gave me an opportunity to meet cousins and shop!
Also, Dubai never fails to amaze me.
This time around we visited an area called Qudra lake (still being developed) for a quick picnic. I also visited Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.
This property is located in an Oasis at the Liva desert! The property is posh, yet rustic and a meal here is highly recommended!
December; it always reminds me of Christmas break I used to look forward to while in school. It’s quite the same now. I always, always look forward to availing the long holiday and exploring a new place. Unlike last year when I just knew I had to visit Thailand/ Cambodia, this year we weighed quite a lot of option – Andaman (airfares were over the roof!), Philippines (overshooting budget), Indonesia (bad diving season) before zeroing in on Sri Lanka.
The plan is to do a little bit of everything: UNESCO sites (first love!), hill station and settling into a lovely beachside town. In between the sight-seeing (and if the weather holds up), I intend to try my hand at surfing (stop laughing!) and revisit the underwater world, this time as a certified scuba diver [yay :)]!
As I sign off; I must admit that 2015 has been great travel-wise. I have also achieved some personal milestones this year. Needless to say, can’t wait to connect with you guys on the other side of 2015 J [with updates from Sri Lanka!!] Till then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New year!