A Travellerspoint blog

Amman

'welcome to jordan'

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I arrived in jordan at 1am- after 7 days of work travel, hopping from place to place, somewhat resembling how we tend to vacation, a different city each day, but this time there was little room for pleasure- it was a focused long week, where i officially realized work travel is not so glamorous! i had the pleasure of sitting next to a couple that i chatted with the entire 4 hour flight- something i rarely do (i'm seem to be developing habits from my other half!). The couple was visiting jordan on a mission to work with children in refugee camps- teaching them through music and science. Zaatari- one of the largest refugee camps in Jordan- home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees- is one of the places this couple was headed and one of the largest recipients of aid from Unicef- my dad being the pivotal reason for my visit. Upon arrival i had already learned so much about jordan, from a couple who had done their research, visiting the middle east for the first time, needing to understand cultural norms to adapt their curriculum accordingly.

Jordan was already one of the most friendly places i had visited before leaving the airport! whilst arabic is the primary language and english is rather limited, every single 'jordanian' i passed said 'welcome to jordan!' very proudly. i learned a few arabic words from the immigration officers, who were in no rush to hurry me along in line, finding amusement in my pronunciation, i paid for my visa upon arrival and ran to get my baggage.

First impressions- similar to india but quieter, cleaner, more orderly, limestone architecture, no pollution, olive trees, roundabouts/no traffic lights, great roads, and friendly people. I reached my dads apartment and crashed after a long week- knowing tomorrow would be the beginning of vacation travel!

Our first day was spent in Madaba- a small city in central Jordan- known for Byzantine mosaics dating back to the 6th century, found in a small beautiful little church. We had lunch at a historic landmark home of sorts that had been turned in to a beautiful open air restaurant- Haret Jdounda- and enjoyed the beginning of a typical meal out eating local food- hummos, babaganoush, pita, foul (a hot bean dip), fathoush, vine leaves, etc. We ended the day back home in the apartment with a bottle of wine, catching up on all of our travels/preparing our agenda for the rest of the week in Jordan.
Our next stop- the ancient city of Petra.

Posted by Rits blog 11.22.13 00:37 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

Hoi An/Ho Chi Min City

Making our way down Vietnam

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Hoi An was our much awaited break whilst in Vietnam, we had a whopping 3 nights to spend here which we were really looking forward to. Once an old trading port, it's a beautiful little town where people come to enjoy the beaches, a calm escape from running around trying to absorb everything around you. It's also known as the tailoring capital of Vietnam with tons of stores that are eager to make you a suit from scratch or whatever else you are looking for. Time definitely stood still for us here. We rented a motorbike one day to check out the beaches, a fun 4 kilometer ride from the city center. The waterfront was beautiful in the evenings, with colorful lanterns lighting up the bridge. Since we were by the water, we enjoyed some tasty fish during our stay (steamed in banana leaves, garlic and lemongrass, yum!) which was a nice change from all the summer rolls and pho we had been consuming. There was also an abundance of cute little cafes along the streets that I wished we could have spent more time in. No trip to Vietnam would be complete without a short relaxing jaunt to Hoi An, and it helped us rear up for the next set of travel we had ahead of us.
Unfortunately monsoon season paid a visit to us on the day we were scheduled to depart for Ho Chi Min city in southern Vietnam, so our travel plans got pushed back by a day. We spent an unmemorable night in Danang in order to be closer to the airport for the next morning. We arrived in Ho Chi Min city curious to see how the south would compare to what we saw and learned in the bustling city of Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. As a city Ho Chi Min felt much more orderly compared to Hanoi, a walkable city with some beautiful traces of French architecture, reminding one of the stamp that France left on Vietnam. Our first tourist attraction here was to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels that were essentially underground tunnels built by the northern Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam war. It was a fascinating tour where we learned a different perspective on the war, as the south was much more in favor of capitalism and supported by the US. Our guide was actually working with the US army during the war and was very informative about the history during that time. Two interesting options whilst visiting these tunnels- you can actually crawl through a tunnel to experience what it was like to hide inside of these ( not recommended if claustrophobic!) and you can visit the shooting range inside the forest, a bit scary to hear gun shots in the backdrop whilst walking around the place! You can probably guess if I partook in any of these ;). This was a worthwhile experience that I would highly recommend visiting if in southern Vietnam.
Our last stop in the area was to take a boat ride along the Mekong delta- a central waterway that touches through parts of indochina. We saw the floating villages on the water ( they had everything from floating markets with poles hanging our with the types of fruits they were selling, a floating bank, schools, hospital, etc!). The water itself was best described as filthy and not what I expected, remembering how we take basic things as clean water for granted. Whilst a good experience, I had hoped for something more than what I saw.
This marked the end of our stay in Vietnam, a beautiful country that we managed to cover the key highlights of in a little over a week. Our next adventure- Cambodia.

Posted by Rits blog 02:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam

Hanoi/Halong Bay/Hue all in 5 days!

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We began our trek through Vietnam in Hanoi, a big city in north vietnam. We were awe struck by the sheer number of folks on motorbikes (scooters!) and the traffic at first site. Majority of folks seem to drive these and the traffic is ever moving. I don't recall seeing any stop lights and the rules of crossing the street are as follows, don't run, don't turn back, and don't stop! You get the hang of it after a few tries! The best things to see in Hanoi are the beautiful red bridge, the pagodas, and the Ho Chi Min museum. We did visit a few other stops but they were not as interesting. The street culture in Hanoi is quite unique to what we have seen thus far, particularly in the old quarter where you can see tons of folks sitting on plastic stools cramped together drinking local beers. (25 cents a pint!). Also the street food offers a plethora of options, freshly fried cheese sticks, bahn mi ( a baguette with different fillings), fruits, nuts, sticky rice, etc. Food is also extremely cheap here so we have done plenty of eating along the way!
Our next stop was to Halong bay- a Unesco site that is absolutely stunning. We stayed on a junk boat(not sure why it's called that) that camped out in the middle of the waters overnight, well positioned under the stars! We visited a beautiful huge cave and a vista point after climbing 400 odd steps to reach the top. Both were totally worth the excursion and added to the already stunning views from the roof of our boat. We enjoyed tons of seafood cooked in traditional Vietnamese style, tastiness!
The next journey was one that I worried a bit about, an overnight train to Hue. I think the last and only other time I was on an overnight train was when I was 15 , from Paris to Madrid. My personal fear was hygiene on the train but I prepared by hydrating well in advance of hopping on board. It ended up working out just fine, a mini adventure of sorts, but a bit too noisy and shaky to sleep very well on. Upon arrival in Hue, we were ready to depart the train and see what central Vietnam was all about! Hue is a small town relative to Hanoi, with only a population of about 500k and therefore had a much slower pace. We decided to take an adventure tour of Hue while waiting for our check in time at our hotel- we hopped on motorbikes (scooters!) with a guide each and coasted through the country side. It was the funniest experience and my guide who spoke a handful of English could tell that I was terrified at first. It ended up being the coolest way to experience Vietnam, given motorbikes are the main form of transport here. We visited a beautiful pagoda, an elephant temple where these animals were once worshipped, a rice paddy field, a tiny agriculture museum where we learned how the harvest the crop, etc. Interestingly, vietnam will surpass thailand as the number one exporter of rice this year.
The next day we visited the citadel, the forbidden city, and the imperial palace. They were all beautiful but the heat was almost unbearable. There is a ton of renovation scheduled for these sites as they were badly damaged during the Vietnam war. Hue was a beautiful little city but we were ready for some r and r at our next stop- hoi an.

Posted by Rits blog 20:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Beijing/Shanghai

First stop in Asia

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We arrived in Beijing airport past midnight, with only 2 full days ahead of us to pack in as much as possible. Entering the airport, there are sensors you walk through to detect if you have fever! An interesting experience!
In 48 hours we managed to do all of the following:
Forbidden city- a beautiful palace in the middle of Beijing- one could easily spend half a day here, it's massive
The temple of heaven
A Kung fu show- it was actually pretty cool
The summer palace
A steep climb up the Great Wall of china- a one hour drive outside the city- the best part of our trip here by far, stunning views, worth the steep stairs, although it didn't feel that way at times coming back down!
The Ming tombs
Tien a man square- the largest square in the world, definately looked like it!
The Olympic stadium- a big tourist attraction to go by since they spent millions of dollars on it and are making a huge loss on it
A tea ceremony
A visit to a silk factory
And lastly, some Peking duck- a must while in Beijing

Beijing is a massive concrete jungle! As our guide put it, given there are so many people (19million roughly!?!), one must adopt a philosophy of 'to squeeze or to be squeezed' to survive on the streets! There are just soooo many people! We had a wonderful guide on day two who provided us with all the history and background we could absorb. The architecture of the historical sites were amazing and unique compared to what we have seen in our other travels. English was a huge challenge so hiring a private guide was a must do on both days. It made everything ten times easier and we managed to get good advice on where to eat, shop, etc. There is plenty more of china to see but since this was our first glimpse, our next stop was to check out a very different city- shanghai.

Shanghai was more iof a New York equivalent, slightly easier to manage independently, , much less to see, more of the culture to absorb. Shanghai is a central export hub for China, situated on the water, with a new modern flair to it. The architecture is very different depending on which side of the bind you are looking at. On one side you see the new modern high rises that have been built in the last 20 odd years where as on the other side you so beautiful old European architecture. We ate some good food whilst here- the shanghanese dumplings being the best! They are dumplings filled with broth on th inside! Very tasty, so we managed to eat them the two days we spent here. Compared to Beijing where one could have spent more time, 2 days was ample in Shanghai.

Gotta run, next flight is boarding, off to Vietnam!

Posted by Rits blog 01:41 Archived in China Comments (1)

Cape Town, South Africa

Our last stop in Africa

After an amazing few weeks in eastern Africa, our next stop took us around the world (it felt that long!) to South Africa. We went from Zanzibar to addis abba, Johannesburg to finally Cape Town!! What we found was not what we expected, a truly European-ish city situated within Africa. We had 4 days to conquer the grand number of things there are to do in this beautiful city.
Cape town actually resembles San Francisco, with the ocean on one side and the mountains in the backdrop. We started out by getting an orientation of the city, checking out the majestic table mountain (it was closed for days due to low visibility but luck was on our side and it was a sunny clear day!), the coastal drive and areas- camps bay, Clifton beach (white sand and cold water!), the v and a waterfront (similar but nicer than fisher and wharf), district 6, etc etc etc!
Day two was focused on what I love most- wine!! We spent the day an hour outside the city exploring 3 wine areas, stellenbosch, franschoek, and Paarl. It's close proximity to the city makes it totally convenient to check out. Stellenbosch is a really cute town, where one of the best universities resides. It's filled with cute cafes, restaurants, and shops. This was my favorite town of all the stops we made. It was also a special stomping ground for a dear friend of mine, so definitely had to check it out. Franschoek was the next town we explored a bit, smaller relatively with its own charm but stellenbosch was my favorite. We tasted at 3 wineries that were all quite different, the first being the large scale commercial production type affair, and the second two being more charming and boutique. Rickety bridge and Laborie were the two I enjoyed- pinotage hit the spot! It was a beautiful warm day and we really enjoyed exploring wine country. Wish we had a bit more time to taste more!
The next day was focused on visiting the cape of good hope, said to be the southern tip of South Africa where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Apparently this is not correct, it's actually cape Agulhas that is the most southern point! Regardless, the scenery is cape point is out of this world. We did quite a bit of walking and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant outside sitting beside the ocean. The drive down here and through this area was absolutely stunning.
The last key stop for us was Robbin island- the historic area where Nelson Mandela and others were imprisoned for over twenty years. We booked in advance which is critical as it books up very quickly. We started out with a boat ride to the island, followed by a 45 minute bus tour, and finally a walk through the main prison with a guide who was actually an ex-prisoner. It was a really informative and eye opening tour that I would highly recommend.
Cape Town is definately a place to come back to. We learned so much about the history of the city and the people in such a jam packed four days. On my follow up to dos is to reach Nelson Mandela's book "Long Walk to Freedom."
We bid farewell to Africa and are greatful for all the time we had here. Next stop--- the Asian continent, Beijing.

Posted by Rits blog 05:54 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Zanzibar

1982/2012

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Our next stop post safari was a beautiful island off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is a particularly special place for me as my grandfather worked here many years ago. He put Zanzibar on the map for me so in planning our trip, it was a definite place to check out whilst in Africa. I visited here in 1982 (age roughly 6 months) and I wanted to check out if it still looked the same ;).
After a wonderful three days, I can only imagine the fun times my grandparents must have had here.
We travelled from Arusha airport on a small plane that had several departure times (depending on who you asked) 4pm, 4:30, 5, 5:30, 6, you get the point. Day 1 in Zanzibar was spent exploring a bit of the culture and history. Some of what we retained - Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania and had its independence for an extremely short period of time in history- 3 months. It was an arab colony and functioned as one of the central hubs for slave trade. 90 percent of the population today is Muslim and a lot of the architecture reflects the arab influence. Zanzibar has a great deal of natural resources, with spices such a cloves, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, saffron, to name a few. We visited a spice farm which we were a bit skeptical about but it ended up being very interesting. The other main cultural to do is visiting the old part of the main city- stone town. It resembles an old walled city with colorful old buildings, beautiful antique doors, winding alley ways, and a thriving market for spices, fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Fishing is a big occupation in Zanzibar and we had the opportunity to see how fish gets auctioned off in the market. It was a cool but smelly experience. We saw massive tuna, octopus, sting rays, sardines, etc. We had a guide with us which was helpful to find our way around and who gave us bits and pieces of history but only kn request ;) Overall an interesting experience but happy that we didn't plan to spend more than an afternoon here.
One key stop was to check out ya bawani, the hotel my grand father managed at one point in time. It was once owned by the oberoi hotels but is now run by the Zanzibar government. I wanted to see if I could place where I was sitting in my baby photos from 1982! Unfortunately the hotel is not very well maintained but I could imagine what it looked it in its heyday. The property itself is huge and situated in stone town. It was a special stop and I am happy we had the chance to see it.
As for the rest of our trip, we spent all three nights on the east side of the island directly on the beach. It's about an hour or so drive from the airport which gave us a glimpse into what local life is like driving through several towns. Zanzibar is rather undeveloped although the roads are excellent.
This trip was my first exposure to the Indian Ocean, at an age where I could truly enjoy it. It's a debate whether to describe it as Tiffany, turquoise or crystal clear blue. We went snorkeling one afternoon and saw spectacular coral up close and schools of fish in a beautiful array of colors. We considered diving but didn't have enough time- as it it turns out you see quite a bit just snorkeling here as the marine life is so visible close to the surface of the water. It's hard to do justice to the experience in writing but we were definitely wowed by how stunning the water was.
Zanzibar is sort of hidden gem and we hope to have the opportunity to go back again some day. Next stop, South Africa!

Posted by Rits blog 10:46 Archived in Tanzania Comments (4)

Serengeti/ngorongoro crater

Tanzania

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Serengeti national park is the infamous place folks come to see animals in Tanzania. As I may have mentioned, it's basically an extension of Masai Mara from the Kenyan side but they are very strict in defining what is Masai Mara vs. serengetti. Whilst the parks are adjoining, they are quite different. The serengeti is enormous comparatively- I think you can fit five Masai maras into it. This meant there was a lot do area to cover and the chances of seeing animals are a little lower. As the animals migrate back and forth between parks for the purpose of food, this has a lot to do with what you can see. There are tons of land rock formations throughout this park which make for a very different look and feel than Masai Mara. We managed to see quite a few groupings of lions, cubs, and the most coveted for us- the leopard- completing the big five! We actually saw the leopard while trying to leave the park in the evening to get to our camp- it was starting to get rather dark out and we were rushing to our camp when a leopard crossed our safari jeep. The next day we managed to see some more leopards perched up on a tree awaiting their next catch of the day. The sunset over the serengetti was absolutely unforgettable and a great way to end our evening.
What I found most challenging was our accommodations! We stayed in mobile tents, a first and a last for moi!!! You could hear a lions roaring in the background and hyenas close to our tent. Our showers were open air and had a bag that was filled with hot water upon request. Whilst still nicer than traditional camping, being in the middle of the serengetti in pitch darkness was quite the experience. Complaints aside, it was actually super cool! Fr those of you who know I am afraid of the dark, you can understand how thankful i was to see so many stars in the sky.
Our last stop in tanzania was the famous ngorongoro crater, a unesco world heritage site. It's a giant caldera that has an abundance of wildlife and a very interesting history. We visited a historical excavation site called oldapai where it is said that human kind first originated. We managed to see quite a few animals, from elephants to gazelles and baboons, ending our safari jaunt quite happily.
On our return back to arusha we stopped in a local village to see a banana plantation and learn a bit more about the importance of agriculture in Tanzanians daily lives. We tasted the red bananas and some banana beer and enjoyed interacting with locals.
We now head to our next stop, Zanzibar- an island off the coast of Tanzania to enjoy a bit of what the Indian Ocean has to offer. More soon- net connectivity depending.

Posted by Rits blog 10.6.12 00:58 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

Arusha/lake manyara

Tanzania

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After completing the Kenyan safari and having good luck in terms of animal sitings, Tanzania had a lot to compete with! We managed to see 4 of the big 5 in Kenya itself. For those who don't know the big five were the most sought after for hunting purposes, they are as follows:
Lions- valued for their manes
rhinos- for their horns
Elephants- for their tusks
Water buffalo- for their horns
Leopards- for their coat- which we had yet to see

We crossed the kenyan border into tanzania, with our first night in Arusha. Arusha is the fourth largest city in Tanzania with a pop of around 1.5 million people. Its a rather developed city compared to what we saw in Kenya. Arusha is known for holding the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda- the court responsible for trials related to the Rwandan genocides. apart from driving through the city we didnt spend much time here, its relatively unsafe in the evening time. Some interesting experiences to note- traffic similar to Delhi, we passed a landmark in the city marking this area as the center of Africa, a barber shop called boys to men, a cart selling goods with marketing- 'Hillary Clinton shopped here', lots of fruit and veggie stands (Tanzania is rich in agriculture to some degree- bananas, red bananas, sweet potatoes, corn, cashews, rice, maze, etc).
Our first safari excursion was to a place called lake manyara. It's known to have some of the greatest diversity of animals within Tanzania but unfortunately we had very little luck in seeing much here. It was parched and and large forrest that made it a challenge for us to see animals. Whilst a good experience it didn't compare to what we had seen thus far. Our hotel was beautiful, a luxury tented camp that served Indian food in the evening. We captured a beautiful sunset while chilling in the pool overlooking what was supposed to be more of the lake- but was completely dry.

Posted by Rits blog 10.6.12 00:42 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Amboseli national park

Elephant memories

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Oh my goodness, for my love affair with elephants and how adorable they are, this was the most exciting stop for me! Amboseli is known for being the elephant safari capital. It's a very small park compared to Masai Mara and can easily be covered in a day. Each movement was worth capturing on camera but none of the pics do justice. The baby elephants were absolutely adorable. In general they are very fascinating animals, I couldn't keep track of all the interesting things we learned, they sleep while standing up, their eye site is terrible, they have amazing memories, they use their tusks as tools, and they are the strongest animals in the wild. The sheer size of even the babies is enormous in weight!

The park itself was unique compared to the other safaris, much drier and a warmer climate. There was a big swamp in the park which the animals come to for water and food. It allowed for great pics as you could capture them in large groups.

The lodge we stayed in was the most beautiful by far of all the places we stayed in amboseli. We slept in nice set up tents and woke up to views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the morning. Interestingly, although it sits in Tanzania you can only see it from Kenya and seeing it clearly is never a guarantee. We got pretty lucky the two mornings we woke up to it!

This marks the end of an amazing first safari experience. Kenya is a beautiful country with an amazing warmth to it. We met some local Masai and they told us to say hi to michelle, Sasha, and malia and we promised to do so ;)
Next stop Tanzania for part two of our safari excursion.

Posted by Rits blog 9.30.12 12:47 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Lake Nakuru

Bird watchers paradise

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EAA007202219AC681728A448E296A82B.jpgEA5A6DE22219AC68170B6D794666E2F8.jpgEA4179A32219AC68172B877372C97527.jpgAfter an amazing 2 days in Masai Mara we travelled north to a totally different oasis, lake Nakuru. Nakuru means dusty (i think ;)) in swahili. Its an extremely fitting name as the roads to get to the hotel were so dusty that the visibility was a challenge at times. Our lodge was perched at the top of a hill with spectacular views of the lake down below. The weather here was slightly cooler comparatively and generally tends to suffer from heavy rain at times. As a result the lake has expanded, the roads are rough, and the vegetation suffers. It was a much greener terrain than what we saw in Masai Mara.
Lake Nakuru is known as bird watchers paradise. We took a morning game drive and were lucky to see pink flamingos as well as a blanket of pelicans covering the lake. I never thought I would find birds so beautiful! The park itself is full of other animals- zebras, elephants, rhinos, lions, water buffalos, gazelles, etc.
Apart from weather one of the interesting challenges the park is facing is from the local communities surrounding the park. They are keen on acquiring the land for agricultural purposes and therefore set fires to the parks from time to time. As we have been traveling through Kenya we are learning so much about the challenges between the wildlife protection groups, the parks and the local communities.
Lake Nakuru is a heavenly place and i would highly recommend it. Next stop- amboseli.

Posted by Rits blog 9.30.12 08:08 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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