We’ve finally arrived in Ubud – place popular with tourist wanted to repeat Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Love” experience from “Eat, Pray, Love” (later portrayed on the silver screen by Julia Roberts).
The town is located in among lush green hills, has its own Monkey Sanctuary and a busy two-faced market.
Market itself has two, completely opposite, faces. One, which exists only very early in the morning – time when locals get fresh fruits, meats and spices. And a later one – more tourist-oriented bazaar without much food, but with tons of trinkets and souvenirs.
We decided to split our stay in Ubud and stay in two places – one located near the town center and another one, further away among the rice paddies.
Both places came with private swimming pools which kids loved spending time in as the AC wasn’t working as well as one would have loved to.
We’ve arrived in Phnom Penh and .. realized we have miscalculated our arrival date – our booking didn’t start until the day after.
Luckily the hotel had a room available for which we were thankful – everyone was exhausted after the long flight, even though Zoë wanted to jump into the pool right away (and she did once we’ve unpacked 🙂
The next few days were filled with the usual sightseeing, shopping, taking photos and sampling local food.
Below pictures are from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (which we’ve visited after a stop in Vietnam)
Few days later we took a lengthy (but cheap!) bus to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City.
First experience with Ho Chi Mingh City was not so good. We got a bit scammed using a shady “taxi” service (paid $20 instead of < $10). For future reference: read travel warnings before traveling to a new place 🙂
Crossing a street in Vietnam was an adventure in itself – not as bad as China’s Xi’an but close enough. Waves of scooters and cars and us – trying to cross the street with two small children in arms. It took us a while to adjust, but by the 3rd day we were (almost) fearlessly able to make it to the other side. Yay!
We stayed in Ho Chi Minh City for a few days – time passed on shopping, eating and exploring the busy heart of the city.
We left Vietnam and headed back to Cambodia – this time to Siem Reap where Derek spent days exploring many temples of Angkor Wat. We stayed at Somadevi Angkor Hotel & Spa, for which we ended up paying only $30 a night (thanks to Expedia’s discounts 🙂
Zoë spent hours in the swimming pool and loved jumping into it without any fear or hesitation – which earned her some amazed looks from staff and other travelers. People were shocked to learn she was just barely over 2 years old, yet able to swim underwater for good 6-8 feet (2-3 meters).
We left after a few days and headed out to Melbourne, Australia where Derek got busy working in a small Expedia’s office (barely 4 people and one of them decided to quit during our visit).
After leaving Melbourne we headed to Malaysia, and ended spending a week on an island of Langkawi.
Flying and landing in India is beyond words – you’d have to experience it yourself to get the idea. Imagine a group of people trying to bring half of Thailand with them, or so it seemed at the airport: huge carry-on bags which didn’t fit any of the requirements, dozens of flat-screen TVs and even more boxes with clothing. That’s Incredible !ndia (that’s the slogan, not spelling mistake).
We started in Kolkata, but after dealing with pushy touts, overpriced taxi & hotel, noise and crowds we decided to leave the city of Mother Theresa and head west.
We took an overnight train to Varanasi – experience we won’t forget for a while. The train was extremely hot and noisy: no AC, windows wide open, vendors selling food, children begging for money, people sitting on your bunk while you’re trying to sleep, train driver howling to the moon with the train horn. I think you get the picture, right? No more overnight train, unless it’s a train hotel with private bedroom, bathroom and dinner as we’ve heard was spotted in Europe 🙂
Varanasi is a holy city for Hindus, and it is believed that dying (or cremation) in Varanasi offers moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death. For us, it was a city filled with dirt, stench and poverty. A simple walk by the river can turn into a smelly disaster as animals and humans use the bank of the river as their toilet. In the morning the river fills up with people taking baths while the evening skies are lit by cremations of those who needed to be purified by fire (if you don’t, then your body is simply weighed down and let go into the river).
Like most cities in the region, Varanasi is often plagued by blackouts, thus most of the hotels use power generators – sadly they don’t power the AC system and you are forced to use semi-efficient fans.
While strolling carefully (due to mentioned poo-poo landmines) one can encounter the following:
drug-dealers (hashish, marijuana and some stronger drugs – I didn’t ask for details nor price)
people asking for photo, then asking for money for the photo
men welcoming you with Namaste, then trying to massage your hand (not for free of course).
groups of children swimming and jumping into water
boat owners wanting to give you a ride up and down the river
huge crowds of locals and tourists around the cremation ghats
nightly ganga aarti ceremony with puja, fire and dance
and many more (… poo-poos, red tobacco spits, cows, dogs, goats)
We left Varanasi after a few days, not sure if the city is blessed or cursed (Kama leans towards the latter). This time we flew, but even this simple manner was hampered by persistent auto-rickshaw drivers (but that’s another story) .
It was time to visit the capital – New Delhi. We arrived just in time for the India’s Independence Day. Derek spent few days exploring the Red Fort, Jama Masjid Mosque and haggling with drivers and vendors (as usual you may say).
One day Derek tried to buy a razor (Gillette), but got a ridiculous price of $35 USD and decided to skip it, even though he didn’t shave for the previous few days – he sure looked more like a highwayman 🙂
Then it was time for Taj Mahal – the most famous monument of love built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The marble monument is located at the river side (it made the construction much easier) and in its vicinity are two red mosques and a garden.
We arrived at Taj Mahal in the early morning and saw it for the next several hours. Fortunately there weren’t many people yet as the place gets quite crowded and it’s hard to get a picture without anyone in it (as Derek likes to do).
The Taj was beautiful with amazing interiors, walls covered with bloodstones, mosaics and carvings. At the center of it lies the tomb of the wife, while the emperor’s tomb is to the left of it.
Later that day we saw the Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (also called Baby Taj) and Agra Fort – both swarming with people and scorched by heat. We were both dehydrated and tired at the end of it – but it was worth it. The following day we packed our bags and prepared for the last train ride in India – trip to Delhi to catch the plane to Europe.
After a short 3-hour long ride we left the train station and got swarmed by a group of auto-rickshaw drivers offering their services. Upon asking we were told it would cost us 800 rupees (~16 USD) to get to the airport. As is the usual custom we’ve asked for 400, but the guy offered 600. Instead of agreeing to it we decided to try our luck with the pre-paid auto-rickshaw which was just a few meters away. It was then the hell broke loose and we got hammered with offers getting lower and lower the closer we got to the counter. The lowest price we heard was 200 rupees but the pre-paid company took us to the airport for just 135 rupees (~3 USD). Talk about a rip-off! So, whenever you go to India – use the pre-paid auto-rickshaw 🙂
We are now in Europe and the stay in India is behind us. Are we planning on visiting it again – most likely not. Kama didn’t like it at all – maybe except the Taj Mahal, as men were disrespectful and rude. One of Derek’s credit card got copied during the stay in India and was used for a few transactions in the UK (mind you – we are not in the UK yet). So, if any of you idiots who copied the card it is reading it – hope you get caught soon 🙂
To summarize it all – it was an Incredible !ndia – as it can equally make you hold your breath because of its beauty … or its stench.