Author: Veronica

India—Simply Incredible

India simply incredible

India. I had planned to take this trip once I retired since this vast country had so much I wanted to see but soon realized that this elusive word – retirement – would be a long time in coming. So when I was invited a couple of months ago to join a tour visiting Southern India I decided – quite quickly – this is my opportunity – to go with the flow. Wow, what an experience!

India simply incredible

The flight over was very comfortable – I took British Airways – but oh what a journey. I went nonstop to London then connected to a flight into Delhi where I then connected once again to a smaller commuter flight to Kolkata – but it was so worth it. When I stepped off the flight it was on a Monday morning and as I was driven from the airport to my hotel I caught a glimpse of this bustling city. The colors, the people and the sounds were overwhelming as well as exhilarating. I couldn’t wait to start exploring this vibrant country. Once I arrived at my hotel – The Oberoi Grand – I considered how fatigued I was and realized I should rest for the remainder of the day since the tour officially started the following day. I wanted to be bright eyed and bushy tail for what was to come.

India simply incredible

The next day I woke very early and looked out my window to see the city waking. I couldn’t wait to be in it. I quickly dressed, had a sumptuous breakfast of Indian delights and joined my small group. We started by driving along the filled streets of Chitpur Street in North Kolkata. Once we left the car we walked around the potter’s village where we saw the like size replicas of the various deities. The narrow streets and the many faces of India greeted us with smiles and warm welcomes. Then continuing to the College Street where we experienced the second hand bookshops and the history of the many student movements before stopping at the Coffee House – a local hangout for students. The coffee was strong and inviting and the atmosphere charged with the electricity of verbal rhetoric. I loved it! That afternoon we visited the Kali Temple – the Patron Goddess of Kolkata and the Victoria Memorial. What a contrast of the old and new!

India simply incredible

The next morning we boarded a short flight to Bhubaneswar. This city boasts a history going back 2000 years. The next two days we explored the various architectures of the temples and scenery of this eastern state of Orissa. There are tribes that live in the remote and inaccessible forest hills which afforded them to preserve their tribal culture and religious customs. Visiting caves – we were able to visualize the ascetic and Spartan life of the monks. This region was truly interesting on its own.

India simply incredible

After an amazing two days we were off to the city of Puri – the capital of Orissa. This city is known as the Temple City of India and is an important Hindu pilgrimage center. There are thousands of temples interspersed within the city dating back from the 3rd to century B.C. to the 16th century A.D. We visited the Puri beach which stretches along the Bay of Bengal where pilgrims gather to sell their goods and take a refreshing dip. We were able to visit the area’s Crematorium which was quite a sight to see. Two days in this remarkable city and we were off again.

India simply incredible

We boarded a flight to our next city – Hyderabad. We were then taken to our hotel – or rather palace –for the next two days. The palace – Taj Falukmuma – was over the top! This 60 room palace – restored to its original grandeur – was exquisite! A blend of Italian and Tudor architecture this palace is shaped as a scorpion made entirely of Italian marble with furniture from Kashmir. French tapestries, Venetian chandeliers and grand frescoes abound. The gardens and views were exceptional. My room was almost as big as my house in the States. Wow factor big time!!! We explored the city where the highlight for me was the most incredible fort – Golconda – which is 400 feet above the plain. I climbed to the top which boasted an amazing view of the city. As we exited the fort there was a ceremony for one of the deities and we were caught up in the celebration with singing, dancing and foods prepared on the street. Laughter of the children and the excitement of the people was an experience I will always remember.

India simply incredible

The flight to Chennai was the culmination of this wonderful trip. Chennai was the economic and political capital of the East India Company from the 17TH century onwards. Suffice to say this city was an important center for trade. We then drove one and a half hours to Covelong -a coastal village – where we stayed in a wonderful resort – Fisherman’s Cove. The sound of the ocean filtering into my room was so very relaxing. The grounds were peaceful and inviting. What a magnificent way to end a magnificent trip.

Did I forget to mention that the various foods throughout India were the best ever!!! Oh my – I had the most amazing culinary experience!!

Vietnam & Cambodia

vietnam and cambodia

This was definitely on my “Bucket List”. I had longed to go to Vietnam & Cambodia for years. What was stopping me? I had the time … what was I waiting for…so off I went.

What an experience!  I’m not going to sugarcoat the flight time- it was long – approximately 22 hours . After seeing numerous movies and eating many courses of exotic food I finally landed in Hanoi. As I stepped off the flight, the biggest smile on my face, I realized a dream come true. The bustling airport, followed by my transfer to the Sofitel Metropole in the city of Hanoi, I was astounded by the many motorbikes on the road. It was magical. The city zooming past me with the merging of the old and new.

My tour started in the North. The route I took included Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An , Saigon and ended in Siem Reap Cambodia. Each city with its certain flavor.  The Tour Company I used, Trails of Indochina, was the best in this part of the world. The tour guides were knowledgeable and engaging and made the trip a most memorable experience.

We made the trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay (approximately 3.5 hours) by motor coach. Once we arrived we boarded a boat, a deluxe junk – Jasmine – for a night’s stay. What a treat! The bay was magical with thousands of limestone islands rising from the waters. Our cabins were comfortable and the service was outstanding. Once I was settled a group of us went for a kayak trip through caves which brought us to a grotto so serene and peaceful- I was in heaven on earth. The sounds of the various birds and monkeys were such a delight. The next morning, rising very early, I went to the deck where I saw a dramatic sunrise amidst the mountains. Little fisherman boats were already on the bay for the morning hauls. Ahhhh!

vietnam and cambodia

That afternoon we boarded a flight to Hue. Hue served as an imperial capital to the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which reigned from the 17th century to 19th century. The splendid emperor’s tombs, ancient pagodas and the remains of the Citadel, the city retains its Royal Charm. Our hotel, La Residence, was astounding. The massages that are offered are a bargain and the grounds superb. Again, service was outstanding.

Then on to Hoi An. We took a motor coach via Danang. The countryside was so beautiful and interesting as we passed through rice paddies and small villages. Hoi An was a prosperous trading port between the 17thand 19th century.  Today, this World Heritage listed ancient town has well-preserved buildings, pedestrianized streets and unique cuisine. One can also have custom-made clothes made for terrific prices and high quality in 24 hours.   I stayed at the Nam Hai located on the China Seas. The décor and landscape were magnificent with villas boasting their own private endless pools.

We boarded a flight to Saigon , a bustling town where a 2 hour drive will take you t the CuChi tunnels. I attempted the crawl through these tunnels but beware, it’s not for the faint of heart – but extremely interesting part of history. That evening, back in Saigon City, we had dinner at the former Ambassador to Vietnam Mr. Henry Cabot-Lodge home. Our Hotel, Park Hyatt, was again, superb and the service – amazing.

My final destination, Siem Reap , Cambodia. The flight time took about an hour from Saigon. When I first arrived at my hotel  – Amansara – the music that greeted (monks chanting) me was so peaceful I felt this was an appropriate place to end my stay. The ruins of Angkor Wat, Anghor Thom  and Ta Prom were so fascinating. It was unbelievable! I took and elephant ride through Angkor Thom and felt I was transported back in time. The last day of my trip I had a “Water Blessing” by a monk which was, by far, the highlight of my stay.

My journey to Vietnam and Cambodia was everything I had dreamed it would be.  I will always remember and be thankful to  the people, their graciousness & hospitality that I experienced. This is truly a trip I would recommend highly

Daily Morning Alms Giving to the Monks

daily morning alms giving to the monks

Laos , a very small land locked country, filled with such a colorful and vibrant history and culture.

I’ve always had this fascination with Asia , specifically South East Asia, having traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. While planning my next foray into this region, the countries on my list were Laos and Myanmar – with their rich history of ancient grand Kingdoms and Buddhism widely practiced among the people . This culture has always piqued my interest. Ok, so it’s on the other side of the world…but here I go. I couldn’t find a traveling companion who shared my curiosity and enthusiasm– so – I go solo – and what an adventure it was! I did arrange my hotels and guides throughout the region (I’m not that bold ) beforehand-since I’m not the backpacker type of girl. I choose to go at the end of February through the first 2 weeks of March. This is actually the best time to go – weather is pleasant, balmy with plenty of sun.

The travel is intense…with connections and layovers the trip took 30 hours. I went from New York to China to Bangkok then onto Luang Prabang, Laos. I could’ve gone directly into Bangkok but I felt the need to stretch my legs and needless to say any way you slice it it’s a long journey. The weather was spectacular as I arrived into Laos – sunny and warm – with my guide right there waiting for me at baggage claim. My guide – Doua – would be with me throughout my sojourn in Laos. A soft spoken young man -his English understandable – we were off to a grand start. I later learned my Doua was originally from the Hill Tribe – his people a very integral part of Laos history. We then proceeded to my hotel – Villa Maly – a converted French home – which was small and quaint – beautifully appointed. As soon as I arrived I had a 2 hour massage (only $35!) , a wonderful meal of lightly curried vegetables and went to my room for a much needed sleep.

The next morning I woke about 5am to participate in offering alms to the hundreds of monks who walk down the streets. I arranged with my guide to prepare some food for me to give them as they did their morning ritual. I was among the many town people who do this every morning and was told this practice dates back many generations. It was an exhilarating experience. Afterwards, walking through the busy daily market ,I saw fresh produce, rice, fish, chicken, flowers , beans and a host of other foods being sold . I didn’t know which way to look first.

After breakfast Doua and I went to visit the many temples in the city. Lauang Prabang is a quiet little town with beautiful architecture. The small streets held the magic of the people. I enjoyed walking through town and seeing how the people lived – a culture so different from my own. That evening, after my guide left, I ventured into the center of town where a daily night market takes place as the soft melodious chanting of the monks filters from the temples nearby. The indigenous people from the smaller villages – artisans, wood carvers weavers and painters- offer beautifully crafted items for sale.

The next morning was the full day tour of the Pak Ou Caves. Boarding a long tail boat the journey took approximately two hours upstream on the Mekong River. It was a gorgeous day and the water, so calm and serene, offered magnificent views. When I arrived at the caves I didn’t know quite what to expect but, as I walked inside, I was surrounded by over 4,000 Buddha statues. It was amazing! The statues had been assembled there for centuries. It is considered disrespectful to destroy a Buddha image so now this has become a sacred site.

On my last day in Laos I went to a Hill Tribe. Approximately a 3 hour drive from Luang Prabang ,the village is home to the Tai Lu minority who had migrated from China in the late 18TH century. The homes in the village are all built on stilts. I was honored to be invited to lunch in one of the villagers home. It was a’ Zimmerman’ moment for sure. The food – very tasty, my hosts – very gracious. It was truly a unique experience to be invited into their home and enjoy a home cooked meal.

Laos will always hold a special place in my heart. The people so gentle….Loved it…

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Myanmar!!