To Vietnam: Epilogue

Hi there all,

Recently, I and three of my friends, Manas, Ankita and Ritwik, we went to the amazing country of Vietnam. Detailed accounts of the planning, travel, places we visited, food we ate, what we liked, what we didn’t are typed down in the links below:

  1. Prelude
  2. The Planning
  3. Touchdown – Ho Chi Minh City
  4. Ho Chi Minh City and onwards…
  5. Hoi An by the day!
  6. Hoi An by the night!
  7. Hoi An to Hue
  8. Hue
  9. Hue – Imperial Citadel
  10. Hanoi
  11. Ha Long Bay

You can go through each of the above links or find them all at a glance by following this tag: A week in Vietnam.

There are a few things I wanted to add which I felt is necessary to be known to all the travellers who are planning to make the trip:

  • Plan early and plan meticulously. Go through every blog, website, journal and book that you can find and gather as much information that you can get.
  • Save money for the trip. Yes, Vietnam trip can be done on a shoestring budget, you never know what extra expense you may incurr or rather what new dress shall entice you suddenly. It is always good to have a certain amount of headroom.
  • Travel insurance is a must. No arguments whatsoever.

  • Book through tickets. Cant stress this enough. Book tickets which belong to a single airline. The booking must be point to point, say from Mumbai to HCMC. In case there is a need to change flights, and the journey is in parts, please make sure you have the Visa already. It becomes very frustrating when you have the boarding passes but cannot get past the immigration to transfer the luggage to the next flight.
  • Get a local sim. You may not need the calling facility, but to have internet is a blessing. Most of the places within the country has a good network coverage and speeds are decent.
  • It is generally a better deal to withdraw cash from the ATMs in Vietnam than to trade in USD at restaurants or jewellery stores.

  • You will need to pay USD 25 as visa stamping fee at your port of entry.
  • Do not give up on the opportunity to travel in the train in this country. The trains are smaller, so are the berths. The view is scenic. I can vouch for the Da Nang to Hue.

  • The Ben Thanh market at HCMC is pricey, the food is fine though. A must visit off course, maybe just to enjoy the place. Bargain, and bargain hard. Be ready to be hear “You handsome/pretty, I give you best price…xyz dongs”.
    Despite being pricey, the collection in this place is damn impressive.
  • Try your best to transact in VNDs. Every time you transact in USD, you lose out some value.

  • Be careful of the notes. The denominations have a lot of zeros. Mostly the shopkeepers return or point out the correct denomination if you are paying excess or less.
  • The paper cut out cards are really interesting.

  • Veg food is rare. Chicken is scarce. Pork and beef galore.
  • Banh Mi is a lifesaver. Pho is bland, to a Bengali palate at least.
  • Pack carefully; for south of the country is warm and cosy, while the north is chilly and grey.

It is a beautiful country, Vietnam and I suggest you do visit it. Respond in the comments if there is any thing that you would want to enquire about.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Hanoi

Apologies for being away for so long, the previous weeks had been hectic.
Anyway, we reached Hanoi on the noon of 5th of April, 2018. We met an amazing Portuguese couple in the airport and they suggested we take the bus to the Old Quarters. So, we boarded the bus number 17 (bus number 7 also takes a similar route) for a ride which dropped us close to our place, a lovely AirBnB located on the Hang Ma road in the Hoan Kiem district.

That evening, we just strolled around the place, enjoying an occasional Banh Mi with a Bia Ha Noi. The street 9 Ta Hien is a an amazing place to be. Foodie’s paradise and you shall be spoilt for variety.

The food street, Hanoi, Vietnam

We were excited about the next day, for we were scheduled to go the amazing Ha Long Bay.

Rain on window, Hanoi, Vietnam

The weather next day was gloomy as the tour bus came to pick us up. There were chances of rain, and by the time we made it to the halfway point between Hanoi and Halong, news arrived that it was too dangerous to go to sea. So, we turned back. Apparently, this happens quite often, and we blessed our lucky stars that we had planned the trip on the first day at Hanoi, we still had the next day to take a shot. If a situation like this happens with you, make it a point to talk to your booking agent so that an alternate may be arranged.

Once back in the city, we found no reason to waste any time by not sightseeing within the city. Leaving Ankita and Manas lounging back home, scheduled to join us in some time, I and Ritwik went out on foot.

There is a Train street in Hanoi, which is basically a train crossing right in the middle of the city, with houses very close to the track.

Train Street, Hanoi, Vietnam

We had our customary Banh mi, yet again, and were headed towards the Hoan Kiem lake.

Freshly baked banh mi buns, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Flowers on the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

The lake sits in the middle of the crowded city, with buildings on the banks and people thronging all about. Despite the bustle, there is a sense of calm and peace near the lake. Within the lake, is the Turtle Tower.

The Turtle Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Turtle Tower against a modern background, Hanoi, Vietnam

Next up we made our way to the famous Opera House. This is a grand French opera house in the city centre, which was commissioned in the early 1900s and is still in operation.

The Opera House, Hanoi, Vietnam

A short walk ahead, took us to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a grand building in memory of the country’s leader Ho Chi Minh. Right beside the mausoleum is the museum, which we could not go in to.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam

We did go to the One Pillar Pagoda situated behind the mausoleum.

A paper cutout pop up of One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam

Somehow, I am not getting the actual photo of the pagoda, so, making do with a paper cut-out pop-up model’s photo of the same. These pop-up models were available in plenty in the night market street.

Now, it was getting dark, so we decided to meet up near the lake. We took an Uber to the night market on the way, which turned out to be a long street, where almost everything is up for sale, from apparels to jewellery to food and the market culminated at the lake.

Various pop up cards in the night market, Hanoi, Vietnam

Soon, we met up and were trying to find a decent place to have dinner, when we heard the unmistakable music of the song Despacito. We followed the music, and found this.

A street performer near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

He had a small team on a synthesizer and drums to back him up and he played around effortlessly to a crowd. Since we had nothing else to do, and were quite enjoying the music, we stayed there for more than an hour listening.

We found some banh mi yet again, and wrapped up for the day.

For the ones who want to explore the city, wandering around is a way to go. For the more structured ones, Hanoi Walking tour may be the easier way.

The next day, would be our shot at going to Ha Long bay.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Hoi An to Huế

By now, we were getting the hang of the country by a tiny bit, the people felt more approachable, and the beer felt much more palatable. Our next destination was the imperial city of Huế. All about the city and its sights, that ll come in the next post, but this time, let me tell you about the journey.

From Hoi An, there are two budget and recommended ways to get to Huế, take the bus or the train. You can always hire a motorbike, join a bike tour or hire a private car for the journey. This website, I Love Hue Tour is a good source of the information and one can never plan a trip without active use of Seat61. We took the comfortable way out, and booked ourselves a coupe in the soft sleeper in the SE2 train, which runs from HCMC to Ha Noi. The coach was air conditioned, and quite comfortable. Not the Indian trains’ first class type comfortable, but good enough; a bit cramped though. For a travel time of about 3 hours, we had each paid 1600 INR. We may have had a thought to grumble about the cost, but it was laid to rest within the first 15 minutes of the journey.

The sea on the eastern shore, boats Vietnam

The sea on the eastern shore, Vietnam

The entire route of the journey is through the hills, which hug the coastline. The view was amazing. The train chugs along slowly enough to take photos all the way. The aisle is generally filled with tourists and locals alike, taking in the sights and clicking away happily. I was no exception to this 🙂

The sea on the eastern shore, Vietnam

The sea on the eastern shore, Vietnam

The sea on the eastern shore, Vietnam

A hidden, secluded, virgin, beach

The views continued to keep us mesmerized, spaced with dark spells through the numerous tunnels.

Our train entering one of the numerous tunnels, en route Hue, Vietnam

Soon we had reached plain land, and it felt very much similar to train journeys back home. Rolling fields with paddy, men and women working, etc.

Paddy fields, Vietnam

And then, all of a sudden, we were in Huế. So, we picked our bags, and hopped off!

All about Huế, coming up shortly in the next post.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Touchdown – Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Saigon, used to be the erstwhile capital city of South Vietnam, prior to the reunification of the country. It used to be a French capital town too during their reign over the Cochinchina colony. Now, HCMC is the most populous city of the country. A city bustling with traffic, energy and food.

Air Asia Flights parked at KLIA 2

We landed at the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport (SGN) on 1st of  April, 2018 at about 1300h local time. We had a layover at the KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Terminal 2) and onward flight to Saigon. At SGN, we had to clear the immigration first to get to our baggage.
Immigration procedures were fairly simple. There is a window where you submit your passport, the approval letter and the filled form (attach 2 photos with the form) and then you wait. Your name shall get called out from another counter, where you need to pay USD 25 and receive your visa affixed passport back. Then you go the queue for the passport control, they stamp your inwards date, maybe ask a couple of questions, done!
We retrieved our luggage, bought a couple of local sim cards, costing us each 9 USD and came out. We also converted 100 USD to VND, which turned out to be about 2.2 million VND. Be careful of the denominations though. I found that they have currency notes of the following denominations (in thousands) – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. It is easy to confuse amongst the zeros and sometimes the notes stick together too. Just take your time to count and pay, simple.
We had booked our stay with the Chill Box hotels. It was a couple of kms away from the airport and the best way to reach there seemed to be using Uber. Later, we found that Uber was indeed the best way to travel within the city for they are quick to respond, and the cost is quite reasonable. The local taxis do rip you off real bad.
We dropped our bags, bathed, refreshed for a bit, and were out on the streets by 1700h. Since we were famished, the first place where we saw something being cooked and served, we went for it.

Sticky rice, vegetables and a pork sausage

What you see above is fried rice, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a pork sausage. I do not remember what it was called, but it tasted quite nice. The sausage had a slight sweet taste to it. The rice, when mixed with the soup, soya sauce and some chilly paste, became absolutely amazing. Chicken, egg and beef options were also available for the same dish.

A street in Saigon

Umbrellas in a street in Ho Chi Minh CityNext, we were headed to towards the town centre. Since we werent scheduled to be in HCMC for a long time, we concentrated only on the places within the city. It was past 1730h, so we could not go in the museums.
One of the museums which we could not get toWe went to the Notre Dame Cathedral and found it very beautiful.The Notre Dame Cathedral, SaigonRight beside the cathedral is the post office, which has been operational since the French were there.The Central Post Office, Saigon

There were street performances in progress in the lanes and we progressed towards our next destination for the evening, The Hard Rock Cafe, Saigon!

Long exposure outside the Hard Rock Cafe, Saigon

Since it had become quite late by then, we decided to head back, and retire early.

Dried fish for sale, Saigon

A sculpture in an alley, Saigon

For dinner, that night, we gave Pho, which is basically a bland-ish noodle soup with choice of meat, a try. I did not like it much and in the trip, never did we have another bowl of Pho.

A Bowl of Pho Bo, Saigon

We retired for the day by 2300h and had planned to visit the Ben Thanh market, The War Remnants Museum and the Bitexco Financial Tower before we flew out the next day.

The trip continues in the next post.

Cheers!!

AtoZ Challenge: O – Optical Zoom

Optical Zoom

Zoom can be described as to close in on your subject. In a camera, it can be achieved in mainly three different ways.

The first one is the basic one, which involves the photographer moving close to the subject.
The second type of zoom is what we are going to talk about here today, optical zoom. It is when the lens within the barrel actually moves to change the focal length and hence zoom. This change in focal length causes the subject to appear closer or farther away depending on the use. Image quality does not degrade while using optical zoom.

The images below show the use of optical zoom. The viewpoint has not changed, just the focal length has changed from about 55mm to 180/200mm.

Optical zoom, trains, Dudhsagar

At the far end, Trains, Dudhsagar

The third type is the digital zoom. This is where the camera, using its own algorithms, zooms in on the image. It has the previously captured image to begin with and then works on it. The photo quality degrades and after a certain point, it begins to pixellate.

So, dear readers, if you are buying a new point and shoot camera, it is always the optical zoom that you should pay heed to.

Last time, O was for Overexposure.

Cheers!

TTL: Delhi: Tomb of Safdarjung

After being done with the Red Fort and the Lotus Temple on the previous day, the second day began with a visit to a old friend of mine. We had brunch and soon it was time to meet up with Tuhina, who would be my tour guide and model for the rest of my stay.

After meeting up with her, we made our way to the Safdarjung’s Tomb. Located on the Safdarjung Road, this is a sandstone domed structure erected in 1750s in honor of Safdarjung. The architecture is quite mesmerizing and within the walls, it is quite peaceful. The mausoleum has four water chambers on each side, which were sadly dry. There are arabic inscriptions on the doorway. There are lawns ideal for people to laze. There are at least a couple of peacocks in the premises too.

Nearest metro station would be Jor Bagh on the Yellow Line. The Safdarjung Tomb is right opposite to the Lodi Gardens, which I visited on a later date. The monument remains open from 0700-1900h all round the week. There is, most probably, a ticket of ₹30 per head, kindly confirm on site. Expect a crowd and you may often find people strategically lazying to ruin your perfect shot.

Here goes…Safdarjung’s Tomb!

Tomb of Safdarjung, Delhi, India

Girl sitting on the steps of the mausoleum, Delhi, India

Parrot on one of the minarets, Delhi, India

Girl with a pretty smile at the monument, Delhi, India

Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi, India

Girl posing while sitting at the monument, Delhi, India

Safdarjung's Tomb view from the entrance arch, Delhi, India

 

We visited the Delhi Haat next to buy a couple of stuffs mum asked me to get for her, with expert help from Tuhina, that assignment was completed. We followed it with dinner and retired, for the next day, we were going Alwar, Rajasthan.

Cheers!!

En route Lavasa

The plan was made on an impulse, so the three of us, Mahajan, Jobin and I, we grabbed helmets, managed a couple of bullets and we were on our way to Lavasa.
Lavasa is a cool place to be, nice lake town, planned and built nestled within the ghats. True! The flip side is, they charge ₹200 per person as an entry fee to the town, and somehow, the minute they see a DSLR, they assume the owner to be on a professional shoot, and they charge you ₹5000 for a day’s pass (unless it has changed recently).
Now, our agenda was clear, to get some cool photos of us, on bikes. So, again, why Lavasa?
For, the road to Lavasa, offers amazing curves, and is not very crowded. Here are what we shot 🙂

Mahajan came charging round the corner, I turned back on the bike, and click and click!

Man on Royal Enfield Bullet taking a turn

We stopped to shoot 🙂

Man on Royal Enfield Bullet taking a turn

Man posing with a Royal Enfield Bullet

Two men on Royal Enfield Bullet taking a turn

Man on Royal Enfield Bullet taking a turn

Two men posing with Royal Enfield Bullet

Three friends posing with their bikes

Even I got a shot of mine. Loads of thanks to Mahajan for the shot 🙂

Man on Royal Enfield Bullet taking a turn

Spotted this yet to be launched Tata Nexon test driving around.

Tata Nexon car test driving

With mission accomplished, we turned back. Since all three had been to Lavasa earlier, we didn’t miss it at all. The trip was fun, the ride was awesome.

Man on a bike in an empty road

Till the next post…

Cheers!!

TTL: Dudhsagar – The eventful day

The sun rose at about 0615h and so did we. We got busy clicking photos of the fall.

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Next we took a safe, albeit a tad scary route to the bottom of the falls where the water makes a pool, before gushing further down. Now, this is a spot where one DOES NOT get in the water. No mater how tempting it may look to be, or how amazing swimmer you may believe yourself to be, DO NOT go into the water.

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We lazed around and were nagged by the feeling of being watched constantly, and soon the watchers came into clear view with evil motives. They wanted our chocolates, and we would not part with them without a fight.

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So, we had a stand off, 4 of us versus 3 of them. Without incurring any casualty on either side, we climbed back to the top, to the railway tracks.

Here, we waited for at least one train to pass by, so that we could venture into the tunnel and walk on towards Sonalium (LIM) and ultimately towards QLM.

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Once the train passed by, we went into the tunnel, only to hear the whistle of the second one approaching from the other side.

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With the other one gone, we knew we had a lot of time to walk to the second view point. Its about a kilometer walk to the viewpoint, located directly opposite the falls.

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We waited on a cement bench for a train to pass by the falls. We waited for an hour, and then….

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Now, we had the following options: one, we walk to LIM, then find transport and go to QLM; two, we walk to QLM; three, we hail the train and take a lift to QLM. We took option three.

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Thus, we visited the Dudhsagar Falls and then hitched a ride on a goods train and made it to Kullem. The return trip was scheduled at 1635h from QLM and it was just 1045h yet. So, we went to the town, a tiny one that is and had breakfast. Then we lazed about and made our way to the station and waited for our ride back home.

On the way back, we saw something quite beautiful too…find out in the final part of the trip 🙂

Cheers!!

TTL: Dudhsagar – The Planning

Hi there all,

It has been quite sometime since the last post. In the time lapsed between, some significant changes have taken place in my life. The preparations had kept me too busy and I am happy to share that the results are in the positive.

Now, coming to the matter at hand, Dudhsagar Falls.
Located not far from the border of Goa is this waterfall where the Mandovi river takes  a 600ft dive . The river is a rainfed one, hence, during the rainy season, she is a roaring beast, while during the summer, shes way more timid. This is one of the few tourist spots which have not been spoilt yet my heavy commercialization. The falls came into limelight when a scene from the movie, Chennai Express, was shot here.

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I wanted to visit the falls since time immemorial and almost always, things would stay just till the planning phase. One fine day, a few months back, me and Ankita, we decided that enough of planning and wishing, this time, we shall make it through. And then, she had an operation done, so the plan was scrapped.

A few weeks ago, the plan was put to motion once more, and the conditions looked favourable. So, the train tickets were booked, from Pune to Kullem. We would board the 12780 H.Nizamuddin-Vasco-Da-Gama Goa Express from Pune (PUNE) station at 1635h on Friday, and reach Kullem (QLM). From Kullem, we would hike back to the Dudhsagar falls using any means available in our budget. The return train from Kullem to Pune was the 12779 Goa Express of Saturday, boarding at 1535h. The distance from Kullem to Dudhsagar (DDS) is about 12kms . So, as per plans, we had a 24 kms hike, and 11 hours time.

I had my own check list ready:

  • Camera (2) – Nikon D3100 (mine), D5200 (Tanaya’s)
  • Battery (3)
  • Lens (2) – 18-55mm on the D5200 primarily, 55-200mm on the D3100
  • Silica Gel packs
  • Power Bank
  • High Power Torch
  • Knife of a sort
  • Lighter
  • Tissue papers (Both dry and wet)
  • Hand Sanitizer and Face Wash
  • Dry Food ( Chocolates and Biscuits)
  • Salt (for the Leeches :p)
  • Bluetooth Speaker
  • Tripod
  • Water Bottles
  • Extra pair of socks

These fine details of the trip would not have been possible but for the input from the amazing and experienced traveller, Dipanwita.

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To an enthusiastic mind, the numbers seemed doable. So, with a plan in place, the tickets were booked and we were waiting for the Friday, 21st of October, 2016 to come.

There are differences in plans, and executions, we experienced it first hand. Coming up soon 🙂
Cheers!!

TTL: Kolkata III

Wrapping up my 3 day visit to Kolkata. Caught up with old friends, had lots of street food, mainly rolls and kebabs, did some fine dining too and toured a lot through the city. Kolkata, is an amazing place and a dynamic one too. Must visit if you like cheap food, historical stuffs and shopping!

This post features some shots on the streets, the historical Victoria Memorial Hall, Pooja and my ex-colleague and dear friend, Shubhanjana Sikdar.

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Pooja…the Fashionista

 

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Henna! 😀

 

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Animal Fair…at a street crossing

 

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Looked good…thats all!

 

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Victoria Memorial Hall

 

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The view from the cannon

 

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Shubhanjana … The Happy One 🙂

 

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Graffiti here spreads love :p

 

Until the next trip to some other city.

Cheers!

TTL: Kolkata II

The next part of the Kolkata series.

A tiny warning, kindly do not be offended by any photo featured within. Every bit is real. Sometimes, they arent pretty, thats all.

 

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Minarets!!

 

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Jute chappals for sale

 

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Some alms please!

 

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Gully cricket proper!

 

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Helpless!

 

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Curious!

 

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Could have been a maestro!

 

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Inappropriate…in so many levels over!

 

In the next part of the series, I team up with veteran fashion blogger and my friend
Pooja @ dialifestyle.wordpress.com (check out her blog ladies, and be amazed).

Stay tuned for more!

Cheers!!

 

 

 

TTL : Kolkata I

Beginning with this post, I am introducing a new category in my blog, the TTL (Through the lens) series. This will be a document, a testament to the places I visit and the photos that I found interesting there.

In this debut post of the series, I put up the first part of my Kolkata, West Bengal, India tour. Its the capital city of West Bengal and is a crucible of various cultures and society. You ll find the uber and rich to the dirt poor sharing spaces very often. On the streets of Kolkata, every moment, there is a story unfolding, all you need to do is see, foresee and be ready! Time it right and you ll have a story with you.

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The most famous Bengali

 

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Giant cuddle buddies

 

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Bubblin!!

 

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Odd one out ?

 

 

More photos on the way!

Cheers!!