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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Versatile Vietnam in 10 Days - Under 60,000 Rs per person (Part 1 - North Vietnam - Itinenary & Must see places )

Travel opens your heart , broadens your mind and fills your life with stories to tell  isn’t it !
This is our story from Vietnam and in short a beautiful and a very versatile one as Vietnam has so many  things to offer . 
Variety of things to  see & food  is usually what makes us zero in our destination and  Vietnam has been on our mind since sometime now  so we decided to go this year .

When we told people we are off to Vietnam , many remembered the Viet – US war and some asked how come you choose Vietnam with a mild surprise on their faces ?
That’s when we realized Vietnam is not very popular with the Indian tourists as much as  Thailand , Dubai or Bali but for us we had fallen in love before we even went to Vietnam , the more we researched to form our itinerary more we wanted to go there .

After our return we can safely say it was better than what we expected .
We surely left a piece of our heart in Vietnam  & can’t wait to go back already .
And I would like to give a bit of credit to myself for the obsessive amount of research and planning I did which resulted in a very smooth and unforgettable holiday .

This blog post will surely help you plan your trip , so read on !

Big question :How Many days to plan?

Let me start of by telling 10 full days  is very less to explore the length & breadth of Vietnam as it’s a long country with lot to offer
Same itinerary but 12 – 13 days would be ideal & good paced for your 1st trip to this wonderfull country .
However since we have never gone on a holiday for more than 9 days , we were a bit skeptical so decided to kept it to 10- 11 days and cover the highlights.

Next : whats the Budget :

One  can easily cut down the expenses if you stay at  cheaper airbnbs & homestays , we did not compromise on location  as that was the key for us . we wanted to be near  the buzz so its easily walkable and yet most of our stay costed 1500 Rs per night which is so less compared to India.
Also if you can sacrifice some luxuries like Private airport transfers , first class train travel  , 3 star overnight cruise in Halong bay, few fancy meals & Spa it will work out lot less ,  but I wouldn’t recommend it as 60,000  is a very reasonable  price for a comfortable international  trip  with some luxuries thrown In. You can always stay in nice hotels if that’s an important part of your travels but since ours was a fast paced trip we didn’t see it wise to splurge there as we would be out and about most of the times without much room to enjoy a luxuries property and stay .

Our Itinerary :

We Started from North & Ended in the south , you can do other way round as well but Hanoi is a wonderful start to this country & if you start at north you can keep moving forward easily without having to return to any place to travel to the next major destination .
10 days itinerary is perfect for people with less time on hand, for ppl who want to check out the highlights as well as do a bit off the beaten path sights & want a slightly fast paced holiday .

Day 1 : Arrive in Hanoi , explore the Neighborhood &  go on a food tour .
Day 2 : Hanoi Sight Seeing
Day 3 : Hanoi – Explore Street food , Coffee Culture & shopping
Day 4 : Halong bay cruise
Day 5 : Halong Bay city  to Ninh Binh Provence
Day 6 : Ninh Binh Siteseeing , Overnight Train to Danang
Day 7 : Danang to Hoi an
Day 8 : Hoi an Ancient Town
Day 9 : Hoi an Ancient Town , Spa & Shopping
Day 10 : Fly from Danang to Saigon,  Saigon Site seeing
Day 11 : Saigon Shopping & Food in the morning  ,  Fly back to India in the early evening

We wanted to explore both the northern city of Hanoi -the capitol & southern city Saigon , now called ho chi minh city  known for its  food
Had to Explore the world heritage sight Hoian Anicent town which is in central Vietnam & also visit scenic landscape of karst mountains in halong bay .
However during our research came across Ninh Binh and I fell in love instantly , changed our itinerary quite a bit to accommodate this place & so glad we did as hands down its our favorite part of our travel to Vietnam .

We also wanted to visit the Terraced Rice Fields up north but that would require you to return to Hanoi and would take more time . But if you have the time include Sapa in your Itinerary .

Destination 1 - Hanoi – Min Recommended 3 Days .

Capitol of Vietnam . One city in that country you should not miss
Hanoi is charming , dotted with lakes & greenery  , quaint old worldly & modern Vietnam coexist so beautifully .You will hear no honking even in traffic ,what a pleasure it was to our Indian ears & mostly how warm & friendly the people were.
Architecture & culture influenced by Chinese & French due to colonization in the past .

 I expected Vietnam to be like India chaotic & colorful with concrete flyovers & structures standing out  but pleasantly surprised how different it was from what I read on the western blogs & website .
A city we could live in , that’s how in our wild dreams Bangalore could be .

Recommend you to stay in the old quarter or French quarter in Hanoi to experience the local vibes & be near to all the action.
We chose a airbnb at the edge of French quarter end of old quarter as we wanted to stay a bit away from the busy old quarter yet easily walkable  to the central Hoan Kiem lake .

5 Must see / Do

1.        Hoan Kiem lake – In the early morning as well as in the evening
2.        Temple of Literature
3.        Tran Quoc Pagoda & West Lake
4.        St josephs Cathedral
5.        Shopping & eating in old quarter –

Food Tour (Highly recommend you to take one - Perfect for the 1st day ,  ( we choose Secret Food tours , a local guide will walk you do local hot spots and have you try many specialties , surely one of the highlights so check them out   )  

Bier Street - what a vibe plus just the place to find good nibbles with your local beer .

Night Market  if you   are there in the weekend- i have heard the old quarters fully transformers and you can do some souvenir shopping

Destination 2 – Ha long Bay – Must do a 1 night Cruise. If possible 2 Night .

Thousands of Towering Limestone islets  rising from emerald green waters of Gulf of Tonkin .
Pick a 3 star and above Cruise for a nice cruising experience .
 The price for a one night can vary between 10,000 – 30,000
We chose Swan Cruise .
 The cruise company you choose will pick you up early and get you on the boat by noon .
Don’t expect to relax on the cruise it is pretty packed but you will have a experience of a lifetime .

Must do :
Don’t miss the 15 min tai chy class in the early morning  while cruising by the islets , the early morning sun shine adds a charm ,
Try kayaking if you are gutsy.

We chose Swan cruises for the below reasons

Cruise Route :
Bai Thu long bay , less crowded than Halong bay
Pricing is more affordable , may not have the luxuries like bath tub or big rooms like modern boats but it’s a traditional junk boat
4 course set meals & all the activities like other boats

Destination 3 : Ninh Binh  - Recommended 2 days

Vietnams First Capital .

We  contemplated for the longest time if we should go to sapa rice terraces or Ninh binh . as Ninh binh is similar to halong bay , its called halong bay on land .
But  Since I heard about the place I just couldn’t get myself to give it up . Still did a lot of research and rearranged our plans to accommodate  ninh binh as I felt we couldn’t be satisfied with the  beautiful karst mountains by 1 busy day of cruising , so we deciced to go to Ninh Binh for a day and  glad we did . this was surely our most memorable & favourite day in Vietnam . we really wished to have stayed a day extra . We will do a separate blog post on our 24 hrs  there .

Must Do :

Trang An  boat ride
Hoa Lu Citadel
Bich Dong Pagoda
Hang Mua caves
Bai Dinh Pagoda

This drawns an end to our Northern Viet experience .
What a memorable one and surely a big chunk of your time in Vietnam you should alot to this region .
 You can choose to add Sapa up north  from Hanoi or follow our itinerary but spend more time in Halong bay/ninh binh . Since we wanted to cover the central & southern parts we moved ahead and couldn’t stay longer to explore the North .

Part 2 will cover our itinerary and must do from there .
Stay Tuned

You can also find day wise stories in our Insta Highlights #beinvietnam


Sunday, April 21, 2019

HolidayInn Express - Why you should choose them on your next visit to Bangalore| Hotel Review

When traveling choosing the right hotel for you can be a daunting task !

Specially if you are traveling to a city like Bangalore where commute time and cost is high so is the hotel pricing .
In this Blogpost we will tell who and why should you pick Holiday Inn Express when visiting Bangalore .

We have stayed in HIEX , USA as well as had the pleasure of  experiencing  both the properties in Bangalore . One at Whitefield and another at Yeshwantpur

When I wonder why are we so impressed by the chain I have come to realise it’s the attention to details , the small things that make a big difference which is usually expected when you pay a premium price and the hospitality that stood out .

About HIEX :

Part of Holiday Inn , Express brand is owned by  intercontinental hotel group .
Holiday inn express chain  is a rest and go hotel brand designed for the smart travelers be it on Business or leisure .
In short is a no frills hotel but a little bit of nice where ever it matters the most .
The most fascinating bit for me as an Architect by profession  was  Their attention to detail .
They focus on doing the basics brilliantly and the quality is  very much comparable to luxury properties without the premium pricing since there are no   multiple restaurants or swimming pool .
Not all properties are like that but atleast the Blore ones are . 

This concept is quite new to India , but very popular in the US .
I have seen a multiple hotels in the same area /city during my visit abroad .

Who is it for ?

Travelers who like it hassle free and without complication .
Faster check in check out , a restful nights sleep , good breakfast and everything needed within arm’s reach .
Perfect for Business/ work  travelers – as they are simple but engaging place to rest , recharge and even get some work done.
I would highly recommend the chain for solo woman travelers as its safe and you know what to expect from this chain of hotels . 
Even makes for a perfect 1 day staycation  on a budget  if you are Bangalorean and want to experience a branded star hotel  without the add on pricing .

Why HIex ?

The chain offers everything you need and nothing you may not

Complimentary Breakfast with every kind of room
Free hi speed  WiFi

Room though compact but well designed with all bare necessities .

Dining with well curated but limited menu

Why  HIEx Bangalore ?

As of now there are two properties in Bangalore
One in Whitefield and another at Yeshwantpur

Whitefield is bigger with large lobby , reading corner , large dining area
Also is in walkable distance from ITPL and malls like forum Shantiniketan and Park square

Yeshwanthpur is right in front of metro station  and next to Vaishnavi complex with Movie screen. And well connected to Peenya business hub

Both the hotels are well located and ideal for ppl visiting these areas of Bangalore 

Whats special

There are so many hotel aggregators these days and the choices can be overwhelming

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Road Trips From Bangalore : 01 - Gateway to Backwaters in Kerala - An Offbeat Trip

This Road Trip  is for those who love long road trips , Best planned over a long weekend !

I prefer a lot of sight seeing in my travels but so glad we went on this off the beaten path trip to  gateway of  Kerala backwaters.
Noise pollution in Blore is a serious problem ,this trip is like a good detox trip for that .

Travel Location : 
This Road Trip is mainly about Munroe Island- Backwaters here  is also called the gateway to Kerala backwaters,  little bit of Tangasseri in Kollam & a bit of Varkala

The name Mundro thuruthu (Munroe island ) itself has a happy ring to it isnt it ? 
Munroe Island is located at the confluence of Ashtamudi lake and Kallada river in  Kollam district
This island village spreads  across 13.2 sqm of area. Munroe island , An unadulterated destination in the lap of nature, is a hidden gem  - you can even call it Venice of India. With serene backwaters and narrow canals with backdrops of coconut lined stretches and thick  mangrove plants it is a breathtaking scene and the relaxed laid back  vibe surely grows on you .

Travel Time :
With Breaks 13 hrs of travel –  700 kms one way from Blore  . Great option for people who like long road drives , if you don’t want to drive long distance hire a cab and driver like we did. 

Travel Cost : 
15000 Per person during peak holiday season if you hire a cab for 6 people. 

Road trip in Short   :

You don’t always need a plan , sometimes you just need to breathe , trust , listen to nature , let go and see what happens and most of all seize the day
This was the mantra for this trip and it worked out well .

Since we were 6 and the location was decided already and two of us decided to tag along ,  I thought this trip I will go with the flow and not stress away googling all the things I can do out there . But habits die hard and googled a bit and the top result on google showed Kallada boat race best  seen from Munroe island is around the corner of our visit  and we  managed to combine a laid back trip with boat race experience so I was good to go .

We also ended up going to varkala beach cliff and drove  by Kaapil beach and Tangasseri light house and water break in kollam city which was not part of the initial plan . I am always happy when we can hit two birds in a single stone and delighted when its 3 . 

Road Trip Story :

It was the Dusshera Long weekend( 29, 30 , 1 ,2 oct ) , our stay was 2 days and booked for 29th & 30th Sep due to availability on these dates, so we had to leave the night before(28th ) to cover the 700 kms distance and that’s why we decided to take a  hired cab and driver as bus and train cost was working out same due to peak season charges

Route: We started at 1. 30 am after picking up everyone , we did a stopover at the checkpost at Hosur and then we were on the road and only stopped over around 6 am during sun rise near dundiggal for a tea break .
Madurai falls almost in between BLR and Kollam so we stopped there for breakfast and again were on the road to Kerala.

We decided to take the route which google suggested as the fastest which also happened to very scenic with views of Periyar range of mountains view throughout the journey . The lush dark green mountain range and contrasting mist cover with neon green fields stretching all the way till the foothills  surely added to our road trip experience.
We decided to not have a lunch stop over and do a late lunch at the resort we had  booked .

The Stay :
There are very few home stays and 1 resort called Lake n River which is exactly at the confluence so one side you can view Ashtamudi Lake and the other side Kallada River . 
You can also stay in Kollam city , but staying in Munroe island is what we would recommend to experience the Island village life and go for a early morning canoe ride.

We reached Lake n River resort around 3 pm and wasted no time to go to the dining area for lunch , it was a simple Kerala meal. 
After a long journey we had reached Munroe by late afternoon and didn’t want to waste any time to go explore the island village .

DAY 01:
The resort manager told us about the boat race practice  So we dragged ourselves and to see the boat race practice in the canals of Munroe Island.

We walked around , soaked in some local life scenes , watched the practice at the race location in Kallada river and returned in the night to freshen up and hit the bed after a 4 km walk.
It was a pleasant evening though the feet hurt  to walk around in a lush green  calm place not crowed by tourists.

Day 02 : 

The Canoe Ride – A must do
6.30 am we were to go for the star attraction , canoe ride in and around Munroe island for 2 hrs
But the rain gods decided otherwise and we were relaxing  in the gazebo overlooking Ashtamudi lake with a cup of tea  trying to make best use of the situation . But within 30 mins the skies was clear again and we were ready to go canoeing in the canals
This was a surreal experience , Almost like meditation and yoga but far more  pleasing to the eye and soul. 

The canoe boats don’t run on motor and glide on the water slowly and the canal and backwaters are almost  still without tidal waves , so you are benefited with beautiful reflections in the water , sounds of birds and light breeze which is a very meditative ambiance.
 After a two hour  canoe ride we had worked up a appetite so we had a leisurely breakfast & got ready for the day ahead .

Jatayu Earth Centre :
We didn’t have a concrete plan , we heard of Jatayu Earth centre which is work in progress where asia s largest bird sculpture is on display which is said to be the spot Jatayu from mythology fell to the ground . It was only 25 kms and we wanted to be back to Kollam for lunch .
When we went there we were not allowed inside as work was in progress , if you visit later in the year to Munroe island or kollam do visit this place
We had to keep moving so we decided to travel another 20 kms to Varkala .
Varkala :
We went to Varkala beach cliff , wanted to go down to the beach but it was too hot and sunny so we decided to head back to Kollam for lunch as we wanted to see the  evening sunset from the Tangesseri light house which is in Kollam .

Kaapil Beach :
I am sure Varkala beach cliff  at sunset would be magical , if you have more time in hand – hang out in Varkala also visit the near by Kaapil Beach which has a road passing by with sea on one side and lake on the other , this place is great for insta worthy pictures . however we just drove by and went back to kollam for a late lunch .

Where to eat &what eatables to buy in kollam : 

We ate at All spice , chinakada – The prices were on par with blore prices , service slow but the food was delicious .
Supreme Foods Bakery and supermarket is on ground floor and whatever eatables we got from here was amazing , special mention to Ghee cake it’s a super delicious sponge cake , do not underestimate this sponge cake – a must eat from Kollam
After a hearty meal and bakery shopping we left for Tangesseri light house

Tangasseri Lighthouse:
Tangasseri Lighthouse is  about 135 mts tall that is approximately 13 floors , 4 of us  decided to climb the circular staircase to the viewing deck and two of us ,(no surprises here me and my other half took the lift as we had stuffed ourselves during lunch unknowingly while busy taking pictures of food, classic case in a food bloggers life J)
It was pretty rush  that day, I was least expecting the view deck to be  like it was , it was  nothing but a small balcony projection of not even a meter depth with flimsy short railing from don’t know which century to hold on to . I have a fear of heights and a lot more things . I was trembling and though the views were 360 degreee uninterrupted views I was scared and didn’t allow the  other half to leave my hand and so he couldn’t take pics either , in a minute I got out of there !!
If you ain't a chicken like myself you will love the views and we would recommend you to head here.

Tangasseri Break water :
There is no sea shore here but a raised promenade so we walked up after to watch the sunset and take tons of pictures . 

By 8pm we were back in Kollam market area  for dinner and went to this place called Ramees  . the food here was okay . Better to stick to their Arabic specialties

We were back fully exhausted to the resort at 11 pm , it was our last night there . Next day 12 pm we had to checkout and the boat race was scheduled at 2.30 pm .

Day 03

We had a lazy Sunday morning breakfast , packed up and sat by the lake in the gazebo-
The cloudy weather giving way for  light breeze , expansive view of the water – birds chirping , friends laughing  .In that  that  moment I was in the  present without worries of tomorrow – grateful for it . 

Kallada Boat Race : 

We left a little later for the boat race , it started late and we saw about 3 races as 5pm was our deadline .
Just like its said sometimes journeys are nicer than the destination , same happened the boat race rehearsals were so exciting in comparison to the actual event
By 5 pm we were off and about on our way  back to Blore with a plan to arrive home at 7 am am
So there came an end to our off beat trip to Gateway to backwaters in Kerala 

Road Trip Take away : 

Its good to go off the beaten path sometimes is my takeaway from this trip – Moments in Munroe island will be a memory forever.
There is something about having no plan at times  , going with the flow carefree , arriving in new places where the crowds are less , wandering empty streets .
Brightly colored houses , smiling locals , low lying clouds with unpredictable weather . Coconut trees as far as the eye can see , Labyrinth canals and waterways, lush mangrove plants sprouting and connecting with the water , light entering  through the coconut tree shaded canals and glistering  on the water surface . This road trip to the off beat part of backwaters in Kerala is bound to leave the traveler in your reeling with joy .

Till our next road trip story stay tuned
Cheers from Bangalorexpress

Any queries / questions on our road trip details , write to us at or DM on