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Posts tagged ‘travel ideas’

Innsbruck: Capital of The Alps.

Innsbruck, one of Austria‘s oldest cities, is probably every woman’s dream of old age; the only thing that gives away its 900 years is its charm.

Right out of the train station, I’m awed by the towering presence of the Alps. People are going about their daily affairs – eating, strolling, chatting, catching a bus, cycling – as though the Alps are invisible, as though they’ve discovered how to look away from the gripping beauty of their snow covered peaks, as though there’s nothing extraordinary about living in a city surrounded by one of the most endearing mountain ranges in the world. Read more

An Empty Backpack.

The way you travel defines who you are. Perhaps that’s why they say that the best way to get to know a person is to travel together.

I first heard of the Empty Backpack concept in George Clooney’s movie, Up in the Air. It professes to traveling & living light, without unnecessary emotional or  physical baggage.

empty backpack, travel, george clooney, up in the air, travel inspiration

Here’s sharing some of my Up in the Air inspiration with you:

Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ‘em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things, the things on shelves and in drawers the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff… clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens…your TV…The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it?

This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake; moving is living. Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It’s kind of exhilarating, isn’t it? This is how I start every day of my life.

Now, this is gonna be a little difficult, so stay with me. You have a new backpack. Only this time, I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office. And then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets – your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack. And don’t worry. I’m not gonna ask you to light it on fire. Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight.Why don’t you set that bag down?

Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime -star-crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks.

I set out for 2 months of travel in 2 weeks time, and all I’m taking with me is my empty backpack. I’m striving to rid myself of the baggage that so many of us tend to carry with us for the major part of our lives, including the times we set out into the unknown.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to explore the beauty of our world and capture small parts of it in pictures & words.

Dehradun: a Charming Valley at The Himalayan Foothills & My Hometown.

Perched in the cradle made by the Himalayan foothills to the north and the Shivalik range to the south, Dehradun is that small valley where you can tell the season by looking at the flowers in your garden.

dehradun, spring

Spring comes home.

dehradun, valley, doon, mountains, clouds

The clouds kiss the mountains, as seen from the valley.

You can see your flight hovering over mountain tops when landing in Dehradun, and you are gradually lowered into a misty land where green is the predominant color.

Dehradun, valley, take off, airport, flight

Taking off from Dehradun.

Often shadowed in the eyes of visitors by the hill-station of Mussoorie, the valley is what glitters with sunrise, sunset & Mussoorie’s night lights after dusk, everyday.

Dehradun, Doon valley, mountains, sun, sunset, uttarakhand

The sun starts to set above the mountains.

Dehradun, Doon valley, sunset

Driving into the sunset.

This valley is what I call my home town. It’s what you dream about when fast city life stops beckoning, where you don’t have to rich or successful to be popular, where everyone lives in a house and doesn’t call it a bungalow, where there’s a leechee tree in every backyard, where you don’t go out late in the night because you love tucking away at home, where you look forward to the chilly winter so you can bask under the day sun. Everyone has a relative, a grandmother, an aunt in Dehradun. Yet you can cover the entire town within 3 degrees of separation.

Dehradun, Doon valley, mountains, Sahastradhara, drive

The mountain view from the Sahastradhara drive.

Dehradun, Doon valley, transport, road, uttarakhand

Riding on.

Like everything beautiful, Dehradun fell victim to commercialization in becoming the capital of the state of Uttarakhand. While that meant increased development, it also meant more commercial establishments, people & traffic. A lot of the town’s beauty is now confined to its outskirts, where clouds still grace rooftops, where the sunset still makes passers-by look up in wonder, where green is still the dominant color.

Dehradun, doon valley, sunset

Sunset in the valley.

In the transition phase of this once sleepy town lie a basket of experiences you don’t want to miss :)

Photo credits: TianyakeProdigalSistaDeepgoswami, ankyuk.

5 Offbeat Travel Destinations in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is so much more than an oasis of Chinese culture. Its unique  landscapes and hidden islands are waiting to be discovered by mainstream tourism, and until that happens, it will be sure to please any travel-lusting wanderer. The isolation of  its beauty is perhaps what sets it apart from every place else in the world.

I originally wrote about these 5 undiscovered places in Southeast Asia as a guest post for GotSaga.

5. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

There is nothing like a rejuvenating getaway amid turquoise waters and white sands. Add to that snorkeling in an underwater world of sharks, smoking shisha on the beach under the stars, riding a speedboat on low tide under the moonlight, and an upbeat atmosphere created by half a dozen small cafes serving up the most delicious milkshakes.

Perhentian Island, offbeat, southeast asia
Flickr image by papaija2008

4. Taal Volcano, Philippines

Welcome to a volcano within a lake within a volcano within another lake! Hidden somewhere among the clouds, Taal Volcano is the world’s smallest active volcano, located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Tagytay City affords you breathtaking views of this natural wonder, while a climb up the volcano (strictly for the brave-hearted) can take you to the lake inside the volcano’s own crater, aptly called the Crater Lake.

Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano. Flickr image by Storm Crypt

Crater lake, taal lake, taal volcano
Crater Lake. Flickr image by deckchua

Further reading:
Tagaytay City, Philippines

3. Bunaken Island, Indonesia

It’s easy to lose yourself in this diving haven. Perhaps its remoteness is what makes it so desirable; you can lie on a hammock for days at end, watching the mist play hide & seek with the Manado Tua volcano. You can ride atop the roof of a speedboat at sunset, looking at the most magnificent sky. You can spends days exploring the beauty in an untouched underwater kingdom. And never once will you feel away from home in Bunaken.

Bunaken, Indonesia, Manado, Offbeat, Southeast asia

Further reading:
Bunaken: of blue seas & anonymity.

2. Halong on Land, Vietnam

You have probably heard of the natural wonder that is Halong Bay. If you dare, take a step into the lesser known north-west where a greater wonder awaits you; what locals dearly call the Halong experience on land. You’ll see landscapes stunning enough to trick you into thinking that you’ve entered the backdrop of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Halong on land, north west vietnam

Halong on land, north west vietnam, offbeat, southeast asia

Further reading:
Halong Bay|misty.mysterious.magical
The untouched gems of Vietnam

1. East Timor

Make your own trail in East Timor aka Timor-Leste, because there is none to follow. Contrary to accusations of being unsafe, the locals are welcoming & hospitable, and indeed the real charm of a country that has existed for less than 10 years. Its best-kept secrets include a host of lovely beaches and a beautiful countryside, and there’s no better time to visit than now.

East timor, southeast asia, offbeat

Flickr image by galimgill

Which of these have you been to? Have you stumbled across any other hidden gems?

Also read: 5 weekend getaways from Singapore to pamper you

To read & share more travel stories, join me on Facebook & Twitter.

Tempat Senang: Rejuvenation.

If you’ve had a long work week and need to be pampered, look no further than a ferry ride from Singapore into Indonesia. Tempat Senang, at Sekupang, off the island of Batam, is the answer to all your stress and anxieties. I discovered this hidden little gem over New Year, and couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing way to end 2010.

the country-themed rooms.

What first fascinated me while doing my research was that Tempat Senang is not just any other resort with any other rooms. Each room has a country theme, complete with the design, decoration and USP (if I may). With only about 9 suites, you can feel the personalization in each.

The Sultan Room

We stayed in this Middle Eastern room.

sultan room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

With a jacuzzi in the living area and middle-eastern decor.

sultan room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

sultan room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

The Tree Room

I managed to get a sneak-peek at the other rooms, and this one’s my favorite. For next time.

There’s a hanging bed in the room!

tree room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

And a tree house feel all around, right down to the furniture.

tree room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

The Japanese room

Despite no outdoor view, I loved the black & white, wooden ambiance of this room, with beds in every nook & corner. A great room to stay if you’re a big bunch.

japanese room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

The Thai room

This one’s a huge room with a back room, a jacuzzi and a fish spa in the backyard.

thai room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

thai room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

thai room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

The Bali Room

It comes with an exclusive entrance and verandah, and a jacuzzi.

bali room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

bali room, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, spa

The Indian and Indonesian rooms seemed quite commonplace and not picture-worthy!

the Spa.

Our Spa experience was extraordinary. There is probably no better way to pamper your body for 3 hours at a stretch (half day spa) amid a host of friendly masseuses and pure relaxing aromas. The first 3 hours come together with the room and we topped up an additional 3 hours the next day; that’s how good it was!

I tried Lavendar Aroma Therapy, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, White Lurlur Body Scrub, and a hair treatment. Each was an hour of pure bliss.

the Restaurant.

The restaurant serves up a variety of cuisines, from Indonesian and Thai to Western. The chef was extremely talented and very receptive of me being a vegetarian; he made to order most of our meals and I would highly recommended the BBQ-baked pizza. The staff was open to us getting our own wine (though the drinks are not too expensive) and maggie, and it was a pleasure rounding up each meal with a few games of pool.

the People.

Just like the rooms & the spa, the entire experience at Tempat Senang has a warm, personal touch. The locals were genuinely friendly and helpful, and everyone seemed to know that we were putting up in the Sultan room & going for a second round of Spa!

the Place.

In the spirit of a relaxing getaway, there aren’t many activities to pursue at the resort or in the vicinity. There is however, a beautiful golf course which runs all the way to the shore of the South China Sea. Riding along the green in a golf buggy, letting your hair down in the breeze and watching the sunset above the sea is a great way to round off the evening.

golf course, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway

golf course, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway

golf course, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, sunset

golf course, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, sunset

golf course, tempat senang, indonesia, weekend getaway, sunset

I would highly recommend Tempat Senang to anyone looking for a relaxing weekend getaway from Singapore. Have you been there yet?

Maxwell Hill: Malaysia’s Oldest Charm

One minute, the clouds are descending upon you, transporting you to the heavens. The next minute, you’re running for shelter and watching the rain, intimidated by its intensity and the gusty wind. Just then, the rain and the mist both go into hiding, revealing an untouched blue sky.

Most people think Cameron Highlands or Genting Highlands when choosing a hill station getaway in Malaysia. Their lesser known cousin, Maxwell Hill aka Bukit Larut, therefore still retains its quaint English ambiance and a mystic poetic isolation.

old English Bangalow, maxwell hill

Maxwell Hill's old English ambiance shrouded in mist.

Bukit Larut, Maxwell Hill

Bukit Larut aka Maxwell Hill

Maxwell Hill, bukit larut

Royal old bungalows to spend a quiet weekend.

maxwell hill, bukit larut

Could you find a better place to write?

blue sky, maxwell hill, bukit larut

The mist, rain, wind disappear to reveal a blue sky.

A mere 4-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur takes you to the base of the hill. To get to the peak or midway up, you need to rent a 4-wheel drive or trek for 4-5 hours. Neither option is for the faint-hearted; the road is as steep as it is winding, and the jeeps appear to be from the era of the British rule in the region! In our impromptu trip, the tickets for the 4-wheel drive were sold out early on a Sunday, resulting in a great deal of negotiation and hitch-hiking, doubling the thrill of the ride (imagine, if you can, riding a jeep down a hill with 12 other passengers).

Maxwell hill

The winding road leading up to Maxwell Hill

4-wheel drive up to Maxwell Hill

Thanks to the 4-wheel drive & our pro driver, we survived!

Maxwell Hill is a royal way to spend a weekend, soaking up the charm of old English bungalows (they get booked up to 3 months in advance), seeking poetic inspiration, or simply whiling away time watching the sky perform magic.

5 Weekend Getaways From Singapore to Pamper You.

Close to each weekend, I desperately resort to Google to find offbeat ideas for weekend getaways from Singapore. In the midst of my travel research, I came across these 5 weekend getaways in Malaysia and Indonesia that will pamper your senses and indulge you. So ditch your weekend travel to Kuala Lumpur, and rejuvenate in lesser know Southeast Asian hideouts!

1) Tempat Senang, Indonesia

An hour’s ferry-ride away from Singapore, in the neighborhood of Batam Island (Indonesia), lies this exotic little gem. It’s a boutique resort, with under 10 suites, each designed, decorated and modeled after an Asian country. Besides the likes of Bali room, Indian room and Japanese room, there’s a Tree Room with a bed suspended in mid air. It’s also home to a traditional Balinese spa with a wide range of rejuvenating massages, and a pampering staff.

Tempat Senang, weekend getaway, Singapore, Batam, Indonesia, Spa, offbeat

The Tree Room at Tempat Senang. Picture courtesy

Also read: Tempat Senang: Rejuvenation

2) Nikoi Island, Indonesia

Close your eyes and imagine you are sprawling on a beach chair on white sands, in the company of crystal blue waters, sipping a drink. Just across the shores of Singapore, Nikoi Island affords you that luxury. Many describe this private island & its ecotourism resort as magical. Of course, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Nikoi Island, Bintan, Indonesia, weekend getaway, singapore, offbeat, ecotourism

From my trip to Nikoi Island

Also read: Nikoi Island [Bintan, Indonesia]: ecotourism, beauty, magic

3) Lake Kenyir, Malaysia

Most spas have an artificial waterfall in the background, to soothe your senses with the effect of trickling water. Imagine looking into a lake instead while being pampered, reflecting upon life in its vastness. That’s the Lake Kenyir ecotourism resort & spa for you, in Terengganu, Malaysia.

Lake Kenyir

Lake Kenyir. Photo credit: 2121studio’s Flickr stream.

4) Tanjong Jara, Malaysia

Tanjong Jara replicates the magnificent palaces and the pampering luxury of Malay kings in Terengganu, Malaysia. On the coast of turquoise seas, this traditional resort swept away Time‘s editors too. After all, you must live life king size, at least once!

tanjong jara, weekend getaway, Singapore, malaysia, terengganu, offbeat, spa

Tanjong Jara Resort. Photo credit:

5) Pangkor Laut, Malaysia

You have probably heard of Pangkor Island on Malaysia’s west coast, but Pangkor Laut, a private island resort, is a world in itself. Think crystal blue waters, white sands, chalets on stilts. Think indulgence.

pangkor laut, singapore, malaysia, weekend getaway, offbeat, spa

Pangkor Laut Resort. Photo credit:

Which of these 5 getaways have you already pampered yourself at? Do you know of any other secret pampering getaways?

Also read: 5 offbeat travel destinations in Southeast Asia

To read & share more travel recommendations, join Shivya Nath on Facebook & Twitter.

Halong Bay: Misty. Mysterious. Magical.

You’ve seen calm seas and you’ve seen sprawling mountains. Put the two together, throw in some evasive mist, dig up some extravagant caves, and shake a magic wand. You might get something close to Halong Bay in Northeast Vietnam.

Over 3000 limestone structures arise out of the waters, as though the heavens are really beneath the surface and gracing the earth, forming a spectacle of beauty, mystery and magic, like you’ve never witnessed before.

Halong bay, vietnam, north, southeast asia, natural wonder, gulf of tonkin

halong bay, vietnam

I cruised along these waters of the Gulf of Tonkin (Halong Bay) on the Imperial Junk, one of the many mid-range options to be part of the land on water phenomenon. Imagine sitting on the deck of the cruise, gazing at scores of limestone structures, each with it’s own touch of perfection, looking as stunning at sunrise as at sunset.

Imperial cruise, junk, halong bay

The Imperial Junk

Halong bay, vietnam, sunrise, travel, southeast asia
Halong Bay at Sunrise
Halong bay, sunset, north, vietnam, natural wonder, gulf of tonkin
Halong Bay at Sunset

Each cruise provides food (quality is proportional to the price of the cruise), water activities like kayaking and limestone cave exploration. The limestone cave open for exploration is decked up in lights, and although the ambiance is artificial, the intricate stalactites and stalagmites are very real and stunning indeed.

limestone cave, halong bay, vietnam, stalactites, stalagmites

Stalactites & Stalagmites

limestone cave, halong bay, vietnam, stalactites, stalagmites

The limestone cave

Although neither Halong Bay nor Halong on Land made it to Lonely Planet’s world’s greatest natural wonders, both are mysterious, magical, charming and perfect in their own ways.

Bunaken: Of Blue Seas & Anonymity.

My first memory of Bunaken is that of sitting on the roof of a speedboat, riding the waves of a turquoise blue sea, and gazing at the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen.

why Bunaken: We chose to travel to North Sulawesi in Indonesia to get past the touristy temptation of Bintan & Bali, and were pleasantly greeted by a world yet to be discovered and commercialized. Our base was Manado, a city-town in North Sulawesi, and the closest airport to Bunaken – which lay a boat journey away, untouched.

getting there: The public boat from Manado, used mostly by locals and extremely cheap, dropped us at the jetty at Bunaken Island. We were immediately greeted by the locals, who we first thought to be touts but soon realized were genuinely helpful and extremely friendly. That warmth of the people saved us the disappointment of realizing that this part of the island was more of a wet swamp than a beach.

Panorama Resort, where we intended to stay, was fortunately on the other side, and we managed to arrange scooter (two-wheeler) rides with the locals – a bone-chilling experience that took us through dirt roads and made us feel so unsure of where we were headed! Panorama’s side of the island turned out to be a pleasant surprise after the initial impressions we formed of Bunaken!

the island: The view from the balcony of our chalet was picture-perfect – beyond the white sand was a deep blue sea and in the distance, a volcano partially covered in mist, with clouds descending and rising from its peak every now and then. We spent a good deal of our stay just lying on the hammock in the balcony, watching nature as its loveliest!

bunaken, indonesia, sulawesi, sunset, volcano, misty

Sunset at Bunaken

Believe it or not, the only tourists that have ever stayed at Panorama before are either from Germany or the UK, and we met many during our stay. In fact, the diving instructor at Panorama is a German guy called Sven, married to a local Indonesian girl and settled in Bunaken. So, the best part about the island is its obscurity – it’s only popular among divers in the west – as a result of which it is scarcely inhabited (beach resorts are the only business) and even basic establishments like restaurants are nowhere to be found (food comes with the beach resorts)!

Like me, everyone who chances upon this beauty must regard herself as an explorer and discoverer, and a very lucky one at that!

must do: Snorkeling in the sea surrounding Bunaken was a stunning underwater experience with fish & corals that people come to study from far off places – and that amateurs like me can only gawk at in wonder! Add to that the most picturesque sunset seen from the open seas, a night sky sprinkled with stars, and some locally brewed alcohol – Cerang Onsari (which I won’t necessarily recommend any more than a sip, simply because you must try everything!)

Bunaken is such an undiscovered gem – that’s perhaps what makes it so beautiful, so memorable and so worth a visit.


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