The Year That Was – 2017

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Sunset over Agra, first time ever witnessing such a beautiful sunset in our own backyard

We’re at work, winding things down and even though it’s the end of the year, things still feel a bit crazy. Last working day before the holidays is finally over and we start feeling just a tinge of excitement. Back home, last minute packing and cleaning up the house has been accomplished. Next day early morning at 5:00am,  we are off in a Grab taxi to Changi airport. After the usual drill of checking in, immigration and security, we warm up at the sight of a beautiful sunrise while waiting at the gate. We take off and a couple of movies and a hot indian breakfast later, the plane has landed.

Every year for the last 5 years we have celebrated new year in India. It has become a custom of sorts. Every year we look forward to experiencing north indian winters and welcoming the next 365 days surrounded by family. The days between Christmas and New Year are spent meeting friends and family, gorging over home made meals, sipping endless cups of adrak chai, mom’s tomato soup and shelling peas.

2017 was no different. While, it takes a couple of days to get used to India and its ways, by the end of the trip we know we’ll be homesick.

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Mustard fields in bloom, a common sight during North Indian winters

What made this trip special? Well it was a lot of things, as it usually is. In the 10 days we were there, we managed :

  • 1 road trip – from Delhi – Agra – Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway
  • 5 family get togethers – 1 breakfast, 2 dinners, 1 evening tea and 1 BBQ on NYE. And oh the home made food was just so comforting. And there is just something special about BBQ-ing in winters that you’ll never experience in tropical weather
  • 2 friends get togethers – both on roop top terrace cafes. Winters and open air cafes? Add to the list of winter experiences we look forward to
  • 1 indian wedding – where we dressed up, clicked more than necessary amount of photographs, enjoyed the indian wedding scenes and needless to say – the food
  • 1 excursion to Wildlife SOS elephant sanctuary – an NGO which runs centers for rescued animals which you can visit, volunteer at and also make donations to. Check out their website here
  • Ate out on several occasions – from breaking the fast with Agra’s favourite breakfast, Bedhai Jalebi to enjoying South Indian food at Dasaprakash. From relishing north indian dhaba food to the popular indian street food … it was all a gastronomical adventure
  • Getting important stuff done – adult stuff like managing our finances and investment 😀
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Foggy morning in Agra, -8 degrees centigrade

We’ve come to realise how fortunate we have been – for friends, family and their love in our lives. Every time we leave from our house in India, we feel overwhelmed by how loving and selfless so many people around us are especially, our parents. Beyond that, we have travelled. As much as our working lives allowed us to. And it has been great!

Here is a recap of the Year That Was – 2017. Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the video

Happy Twenty Eighteen folks. Here’s wishing you the best of everything 🙂

Here is the Year That Was – 2016, just in case.

 

10 things to do in Cape Town

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Citysightseeing, Cape Town

South Africa was splendid! We didn’t expect our vacay to be so superlative but it just was.

Cape Town is a city you can easily fall in love with. It’s the right size, not too large and not too small. It has everything you can hope for, with mountain peaks you can trek to, to beautiful beaches you can relax at.

Here are 10 things to note when planning your vacay in Cape Town, South Africa:

1. Hop-on-hop-off bus tour – Really good tours here which provide an excellent overview of the city and the audio commentary is informative and fun. We went with Citysightseeing on a 24 hours pass

2. Table Mountain – If a trek is not for you, then take a cable car up there. For the more adventurous, you can also trek to Lion’s Head

3. V&A Food Market – Plenty of food vendors with several vegetarian options. Coffee, juices, desserts, organic nuts, snack bars … you name it

4. V&A Waterfront – Hang out at the waterfront, soak in capetonian vibes, grab a drink or a bite, visit the shopping mall and take a picture at the giant yellow photo frame 😀

5. The Watershed – for great local souvenirs, this is the place to go to

6. Boat ride at V&A Waterfront – Extend your hop-on-hop-off experience by taking a boat ride, soak in the views, ships at the harbor, hear the gulls and spot some sea lions if you are lucky

7. Free Walking Tours – Experience Cape Town, up close and personal on one or more walking tours with a local guide. Tours start at Green Market Square. The square is also good to shop for local souvenirs (be ready to bargain here)

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Chasing squirrels at The Company’s Garden, Cape Town

8. Company’s Garden – Yes the garden built by the Dutch East India Company back in the 1650s and is now a heritage site. Take a walk amongst numerous pigeons and squirrels with Table Mountain in the backdrop. Also meet the city’s oldest citizen here. Breakfast at the restaurant here or stop by at the museums

9. The Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill – Happens every Saturday. You need to go and discover it for yourself

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Chasing the sunset at Camps Bay, Cape Town

10. Sunsets at Camps Bay – The best way to spend your evenings. Choose a sea facing cafe/restaurant/bar, order in the drinks and tapas and you are set for a few hours of bliss. All the while, you have the Twelve Apostles watching over you

Our Vlog below, brings everything above to life

Bonus to-dos:

Robben Island – We heard it gets really crowded. So choose the time wisely or take a private tour

Stop by for a color riot at Bo-Kaap (worthy instagrammable photo opportunity here) 😀

Getting around? Just Uber

Kruger National Park – Self-drive vs. Open jeep safari

African elephant, Kruger Park

Whether to drive on your own or book a safari is perhaps the biggest question people ask when going on their very first african safari.

We actually did not hesitate in booking a safari on our recent, first visit ever to Kruger National Park in South Africa. We booked with Africa Spears and it turned out to be a great choice. Here are 10 reasons why we think a guided open jeep safari is a good idea:

  1. We landed in Johannesburg and from there, Kruger Park is a good 400 km. As we needed to get to Kruger the same day we were glad they had arranged a pick-up for us
  2. We did not have to make bookings inside the park rest camp ourselves. It was all done by them
  3. The guide knew his way around in the jungle for things like where to stop for breakfast/lunch or a loo break
  4. We were in an open jeep at a slight elevation rather than inside a low closed vehicle. An open jeep is far more exciting than a regular car and it’s easier to spot animals
  5. It’s not easy to spot animals in the park, esp when it’s your first time. Our guide was very good in spotting animals otherwise easily missed by the untrained eye
  6. The guide also shares information on animal behavior, bird and plant species and so on. It’s quite educational this way
  7. The guide knows what to do in case of an animal attack (at least you would hope so ;-))
  8. They will also drop you off at the airport
  9. Often you won’t find a network inside the park while your guide will have his radio
  10. There is someone to take your pictures 😀

White Rhino, Kruger Park

Quick tip: After exiting Kruger, we took a flight out to Cape Town from Nelspruit in place of Johannesburg. And it saved us from an unnecessary long drive and a good few hours. Do note that there are no daily flights from Nelspruit though, so plan accordingly.

Our experience in Kruger you ask? Watching our vlogs below might just inspire you to book that ticket to Africa! Tell us what you you spot at 3:50 mins in part 1.

For more videos, you can hop-on to YouTube here.

Happy spotting the Big 5 folks!!! Waka waka! 🙂

 

 

Things to do in Phuket, Thailand

Earlier this August was our second visit to Phuket, the beautiful island destination in Thailand. It was an incredible feeling to realize that Phuket was the first international destination travel keede visited together. Since then in 2012 to now in 2017, we have traveled to so many places together and been on such incredible journeys. When we revisited after 5 years it was almost like celebrating 5 years of wanderlust.

We thoroughly enjoyed Phuket on this second visit. Here are our suggested things to do on this wonderful island.

1. Explore the beaches – there is a beach for everyone in Phuket. From busy ones like to Patong to laid back ones like Paradise beach only a few minutes away from Patong, to a long sprawling one like Karon. Moreover, these beaches are lined with F&B joints across the road so that chilled beer or fresh coconut water is not far away

2. Sunsets ❤ – for sure you don’t want to miss the sunsets. We surely didn’t at Patong beach. We chose the area away from the hustle and bustle where a few shacks are set-up right on the beach. We selected one selling thai spring rolls and settled in with the finger food and drinks. You take your shoes off, dig your feet into the sand and enjoy the waves and if you are lucky … an incredible sunset 🙂

Sunst at Patong beach

3. Visit The Big Buddha – driving upto the Big Buddha takes you through some hills, valleys and lush greenery. On a good day, you will be able to catch beautiful views from above. The site is still under construction so there is not a lot to do there but the drive and views are what makes up for it

4. Beautiful temple architecture – there are several temples in Phuket, each one depicting the unique architectural style. If you have only time for one, stop by at The Wat Chalong. It’s only a few mins from Big Buddha and you can cover it on the same day you visit the site

Wat Chalong, Phuket

5. Bangla Walking Street – this is one of the most touristy things you can do here. However, we suggest to go at least once. The street is choc a bloc with drinking holes and place to have a quick bite. There is music blaring every few steps and locals are peddling all sorts of souvenirs and knick knacks. It’s an interesting vibe with an extremely generous dose of mental stimulation

6. Natural limestone karst formations at Phi Phi islands – a day cruise to Phi Phi is highly recommended. The limestone formations looming in the middle of the seas is a really pretty sight. There are all sorts of cruises that go there – from large ones to private ones on smaller boats. You can even choose to spend a day or more at the islands as well

Lastly, of course thai food! Being vegetarian did not deter us from our culinary explorations. More on it in a subsequent post.

How to commute, you ask? Well, if you are comfortable on a two-wheeler then rent your own scooter. It works out really cheap and gives you the freedom to go around. Renting one is very easy from the many bike rentals.

We rented a stable Honda from ‘Cheap as Chips’. Take note that you should carry your passport and driving license when renting one but should never leave them with the shop owner. Providing a copy of both should suffice. At the same time, always keep your helmets on and your DL on you as there can be random police checks here and there.

Check out our travel vlog from Phuket below. For more videos hop-on or subscribe to our YouTube channel, link here

Sydney & Melbourne through 12,000 eyes!

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iflutteredby’s favourite picture from the Australia trip

iflutteredby has been our travel companion for a few times now. Let’s know more on our Australia trip through her (12000!) eyes 😀

Hi iflutteredby,

Today we’ll talk about your maiden trip to Australia, together with Travel Keede!

But first, tell us about yourself. Where do you come from? How did you come to enjoy travelling?

Well, I’m a 20-something-year-old from this dusty little town called Agra in the most populous state in India. To be honest, I never thought about becoming a ‘traveller’ or a ‘nomad’ when I was growing up. I never made a bucket list or had a long list of places I wanted to visit. In college, I started exploring places around Pune, and I realized ‘Hey! This is fun. I want to do more of this.’ And that’s how it all began. Since then, I’ve been utilizing all the rare long weekends I get to pack in as much travelling as I possibly can.

Tell us about your trip. The events that led to it?

Well, like it always does, my sister had a random idea, and after discussing it with her husband, decided to make me a partner in crime as well. Of course, I was totally up for it.

Where in Australia did you visit? What were some of your best experiences?

Our two major base camps were Melbourne and Sydney. In Melbourne we visited the State Library, Degraves Street, DFO, and other prominent spots around the commercial areas. The Hozier street art, the free walking tours and the tram rides were some of the highlights.

Oh, and how could I ever forget the Great Ocean road trip? Picture this. You’re driving down a smooth, open road that stretches for miles and miles ahead of you. There are ever-changing oceanic vistas on your left, and beautiful, lush rainforests on your right. The music is on, the breeze blows your hair back, and just for a teeny second, you wonder if it is all a dream. We went all the way to the 12 Apostles – basically huge, natural structures made of limestone — and back.

The view from there was, by far, one of the best I’ve seen.

Sydney welcomed us like a bright ray of sunshine after the rainy weather in Melbourme played spoilsport. We visited Circular Quay and witnessed the Opera House in all its glory. Bondi beach was heartbreakingly beautiful, and we fell in love with the coastal walk and the deep blue ocean. We took a ferry ride to Manly beach, ate at the darling restaurants at Darling Harbour, and even went for a hot air balloon ride at Hawkesbury.

I’m sorry there’s just too much to talk about and this space seems too limited! 😀

How did you manage accommodation and food? Being a vegetarian, was it tough for you to manage the food situation? Any places you’d recommend?

Travel Keede managed accommodation, like always. Airbnbs always work the best in places like this. It’s a shared space, so it’s easier on the pocket, gives you more room and is a little more intimate than hotel rooms. Plus, you have the whole apartment to yourself, you can cook your own meals if you feel like, and the overall experience is a little more homely. After a day or two, you don’t feel like you’re just a visitor. I remember thinking to myself, “Hmm, I could get used to this!”

The food was brilliant wherever we went. Surprisingly, a lot of people in Australia are vegetarians. It makes sense, as a lot of them are into fitness and healthy lifestyles. No matter what time of the day it was, we always saw a bunch of people jogging, running, surfing. And goddamn, they have good bodies.

So anyway, food is not an issue for vegetarians at all. You get superb coffee, bakery items, Italian food, the works! We went to this upscale restaurant called Veggie Bar in Melbourne, and everything we ate there was perfection. Coffee and croissants at Portobello at Circular Quay are pretty awesome. We also visited the Rocks weekend market, and the food there was to die for. (This isn’t a hyperbole. It was that good!) Do try the Japanese pancakes and corn with chilli and butter on it! Mmmmm.

It would have been a crime if I hadn’t mentioned having breakfast at Bill’s in Sydney. We waited in line for half an hour to get a table, but trust me, we wept with tears of joy once our food came. Soft, fluffy pancakes, all sorts of salads, omelettes, fruit bowls, shakes, smoothies. It was like attaining salvation for a while. Food nirvana, is what I’d like to call it. The quality of ingredients used to make everything was unbelievable. To this day, my taste buds thank me for it. You cannot miss this. Cannot.

What was your impression of the local life in the cities you visited? What will be your one big takeaway or takeaways from it?

The local life seemed pretty chill. People mostly seemed happy and relaxed. They’re thrill-seekers, what with their surfing and hiking, and road trips and adventure sports. They’re peaceful, and huge fans of art and culture, and man, do they love their food!

My biggest takeaway would be this: When in doubt, have a beer. Also, have the Yellow Tail wine.

How did you feel on your way home after the trip ended? Did the trip add value to you as a person?

Of course, you feel heavy and a tad glum after a trip ends. But you feel more enriched as a person. There’s so much more you witness about humanity in general. You see a whole bunch of people living on a completely different part of the planet. You get to peek into their lives, their beliefs, their culture. It makes you question everything you have grown up thinking. There’s so much to see out there. The more I travel, the more I want to travel, because come on. We only have one planet. Gotta explore it while we can!

Where are you off to next? Any plans brewing?

Yes, I’m off to Bhutan in a few days, and I’m so excited! We’re planning to visit Thimphu and Paro. Looking forward to the three ‘Ms’: mountains, monasteries and momos! Also, the treks and fresh air.

Where can we see more from you? Blog, social media?

The link to my blog is: https://iflutteredby.wordpress.com/ and my Instagram handle is @asthaprakash

Follow me. I’m a cool person. (No, I’m not).

Check out the Sydney vlog put together by iflutteredby!

 

 

Ha Long Bay with Orchid Cruise

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Orchid Cruise, Ha Long Bay

When we made our plan to visit Vietnam earlier this May, Ha Long Bay had to be in the itinerary. After watching some vlogs and talking to friends who had been there, we decided that a cruise was the best way to enjoy this natural wonder.

We shortlisted Orchid Cruise for 3D2N Ha Long Bay Cruise. Though the prices are on the higher side, everything is included when you choose this option. And by this we mean the stay, all meals and even the activities.

The stay on it was superb and the hospitality from the crew simply amazing. The rooms were quite spacious with a comfortable bed, a private balcony and even a bathtub. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was included and a couple of dinners were quite impressive 5 course meals.

In terms of activities, here is what was included:

  1. Kayaking and swimming on two days
  2. Cycling and village tour at Cat ba island
  3. Cave tour on bamboo boats
  4. Tai chi every morning
  5. Spring roll making on two evenings
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Local selling drinks and snacks to cruises

Below is what you can additionally purchase:

  1. Drinks and snacks. Happy hour every evening!
  2. Massages. There is a spa!

Another advantage of taking this cruise was that the drive from Hanoi to the port was only 1.5 hours as they have a special permit. For all other cruises the drive is 4 hours from Hanoi.

We really enjoyed the tour with amazing views from the windows and the sun deck, even from the dining room. It was surreal to wake up to views in the bay and goto bed with the moonlight shining in the middle of nowhere. Even though a short one, it was one of our best luxurious relaxed vacay.

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Goodnight from Ha Long Bay

Here is our vlog from Ha Long Bay. Enjoy the views! 😀

One thing really saddened us though. While most of the bay was clean, we did see junk floating about at places. Especially in areas where cruises anchored. We never saw anyone litter at least from our cruise but here’s a shout out to everyone. Let’s be responsible and not litter. If we see anyone litter we must stop them. Let’s do our bit and keep the bay clean and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

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Littering in Ha Long Bay 😦

5 things in Hanoi we most enjoyed

We were in Hanoi for just 2 days but even those two days were just great.

Here are 5 things we most enjoyed:

1. Our hotel, La Siesta Trendy – this hotel was in the old quarter and the service is simply amazing. The reception itself exceeded our expectations. We were welcomed with cocktails as welcome drinks, fresh cut fruits and cold towels. The room was quite spacious and comfortable with a balcony looking down over Hanoi. And the hospitality? Superb!

Hanoi from La Siesta Trendy

2. Hanoi, old quarter – as the hotel was in the old quarter, it was very easy to walk around on foot exploring the streets, bars, cafes and restaurants which are in abundance in this part of Hanoi. On one instance, after walking around for a bit, we were quite tired to walk back so we hailed a trishaw/rickshaw and that turned out to be very enjoyable as we could see the sights relaxed in the seat, shaded from the sun with the vehicle moving at a leisurely pace. French architecture from colonial times can be often seen entrenched between newer structures

Somewhere in Hanoi old quarter

3.Chilling at Hoan Kiem Lake – although Hanoi is quite crowded the area around the lake is very well maintained with neat pavements, benches, beautiful flower beds and street lamps installed. This is where you see local life in action. Families with kids and their pets mucking around in the grass. People jogging, playing traditional games, chilling on the benches by the water, local peddlers selling cut fruits and street snacks. On the weekend, the roads were cordoned off and the traffic diverted. It felt like the whole town had congregated around the lake. There were lights, music, stalls and street performances and the whole place had an amazing festive vibe to it

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

4.Trying local food and the vietnamese coffee – we are vegetarians but that didn’t stop us from trying out the local food. We discovered plenty of places with vegetarian options. Had amazing baguette sandwiches at Banh Mi 25, rice spring rolls at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh and Pho (traditional noodle soup) and fried mushroom spring rolls at Aubergine Cafe. And the coffee! To die for! We had the hot version with condensed milk and the iced latte as well. And we wished we could have taken a gallon home, of each!

Rice spring rolls platter

Vietnamese brew

5.Shopping at the street shops – there are scores of street shops in the old town area. We bought fridge magnets as usual but also a couple of souvenirs. Hanoi also has many street shops selling clothes, bags, shoes and accessories. The quality is not the best but it didn’t look too bad either. It’s bargain shopping at the end of the day

Beautiful lamps at a street vendor

Next up Ha Long Bay. Till then check out our Hanoi vlog below! 😀