I would like to take this time to introduce myself as well as the following blog. I am Scott Biales, as most of you likely already know. I will be traveling to South East Asia, India, and Ireland from January 17th to March 24th, 2009. For the first leg of my trip I will be in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam for about 5 weeks. I will be flying from Bangkok, Thailand to Delhi, India for the second leg of my trip and will be traveling Northern India for a little under 4 weeks. The third and last leg of my trip consist of 9 days in The Republic of Ireland. I will be flying from Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) into Dublin, Ireland and will be spending St. Patrick's Day in the capital city. I will Travel the country and fly out from Shannon International Airport and return home on March 24th 2009.
Although I will not be visiting the following locations, I will be stopping at their airports:
- Tokyo, Japan
- Chicago, IL
- Mumbai (foremely Bombay), India
- London, England
(NOTE: the following itineraries include both organized tours and the plans I made myself, which are subject (and very likely) to change as I see fit)
Day 2-3 Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (2B)
After breakfast on day 2, we leave Bangkok on the way to the Thai Cambodian border. It's a long bus ride to Siem Reap. It will take approx 4 hours from Bangkok to the border. It is possible to get Cambodian visas at the border; ask your leader for details. Then, we will disembark with our luggage and cross the border by foot. This process can take up to an hour or more. After the border formalities are complete, we continue on to Siem Reap. This section of the drive is on mostly unsealed roads and it is very bumpy!!! Although its only 160 km in length, it can take about 5-6 hours. The scenery is spectacular though and there's an immediate contrast between Thailand and Cambodia.
Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Kingdom, is one of the wonders of the archeological world. Rediscovered at the end of the last century by French explorers, this vast ruined city is becoming one of the most popular sites in Southeast Asia. You can buy a pass to visit some of the highlights of this ancient capital, like the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, the enigmatic Bayon within the walled city Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.
Day 4-5 Phnom Penh (2B)
On day 4, we journey by local bus taking in the spectacular scenery to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After a brief walking tour by your leader you are free to explore Phnom Penh. Sights you might want to visit include the National Museum and adjacent complex of the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. After 1975, when Pol Pot and his henchmen grabbed power, Cambodia was thrown into an abyss of unspeakable violence and mass-murder. Millions of Cambodians perished during this time. Witness to this genocide are the Killing fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng prison. A Tuk Tuk can be hired locally to take you there, or you may wish to explore town or go shopping at the famous Russian Market.
Day 6-7 Sihanoukville
A three hour drive takes us to Cambodia's southern coast and the beaches of Sihanoukville. Relax on the sand whilst having a massage and eating fresh seafood, or join a boat trip for snorkelling and lunch on an uninhabited island.
Day 8 Mekong Delta (1B)
We'll drive 4-5 hours to the Cambodia/Vietnam border. After completing the necessary formalities, we will continue on to Chau Doc (Vietnam), a 45 minute drive. You should arrive mid afternoon with time to relax and adjust to the change of pace. A trip up to Sam Mountain on motorbikes to watch the sunset, a boat trip through the fish farms, or a walk through the local market give you a taste of life in the Mekong Delta.
Day 9-10 Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast on day 9, head to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Lose yourself in the maze of Saigon’s central market, here you’ll find everything from bolts of brocade to flanks of beef. Write a quick postcard in Saigon’s stately French colonial post office, one of many French-era buildings that add grace this modern metropolis. On day 10, we take an overnight train to Nha Trang.
Day 11-12 Nha Trang (1B)
Arrive in Nha Trang in the morning. Explore the local shops and markets, sit on the beach soaking up the sun or visit nearby historical towns. Optional activities can include a boat trip to nearby islands for snorkeling and scuba diving.
On the evening of day 12 we take an overnight train to Danang.
**Please note that the January 10th, 2009 departure will be traveling to Danang by bus instead of train on evening of day 12**
Day 13-14 Hoi An (2B)
From Danang, it is only a short drive to the picturesque port town of Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was an important trading town with strong south Chinese influence and connections.
You can take a walking tour of this living museum which includes the Museum of History and Culture, the Tan Ky house, the Japanese bridge, the Fujian Assembly Hall and lunch at a riverside restaurant to sample some of the local delicacies. Hoi An is also a shopping mecca for tourists in the region. Tailors can produce virtually anything overnight, with clothing, silk lanterns, lacquer ware and many other crafts abound.And for sun worshipers,Cua Dai Beach is 4kms from town.
Day 15-16 Hue (1B)
Just a 3 hour drive to the north of Hoi An is the city of Hue. Our drive takes us over Hai Van Pass and past Lang Co beach.
Upon arrival in Hue, once the imperial capital, tour the Citadel which also contains the Forbidden Purple City, modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing. Badly destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, significant restoration work has since occurred. A true highlight of Hue is the surrounding countryside. Traveling by boat along the Perfume River visit Tien Mu Pagoda and the tombs of two of the Emperors Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.
Late afternoon of Day 16 board an overnight sleeper train to Hanoi (approx 13hrs).
Day 17 Halong Bay/Bay Chai Harbour (1L)
Arrive in the early morning to bustling Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We will then transfer to a private bus for a 3 hour drive to Halong Bay.
Thousands of islands rise dramatically from the waters of Halong Bay and, to further their beauty, intricate caves have been hollowed out through these limestone karst formations. Aboard a sailing junk we'll enjoy a seafood lunch before visiting some of these islands and caves. Perhaps we'll have a chance to take a pre-dinner swim, before transferring to the mainland for our overnight stay.
Day 18-19 Hanoi (2B)
After breakfast, we'll transfer back to Hanoi. Upon arrival you can visit Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The Mausoleum houses the remains of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of the unified Vietnam (the mausoleum and museum is closed October-November). Or take a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a maze of street, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry. In the evening you have an option to attend a performance at the famous Water Puppet Theatre and sample some of Hanoi's amazing eating venues. They offer all kinds of delicious Vietnamese food, one of the world’s most delightful cuisines.
Day 20 Pak Xan
Today is a long travel day (approx 12hrs). We travel through spectacular mountains before crossing into Lao.
Pak Xan is a sleepy town with a great local market. The pace of life is dramatically different from Vietnam. We’ll arrive in the evening with a chance to have some dinner and enjoy a cold Beer Laos.
Day 21 Vientiane (B)
A 5 hour drive takes us to the capital city.
There is a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, by bicycle or, for the less energetic, by tuk-tuk. Visit Laos' most important national monument, Phat That Luang, or meander down the dusty riverside tracks to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens. A visit to Vientiane's vibrant, colourful morning market (which incidentally is open all day!) is worth it to find plenty of local treasures. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong at one of the many restaurants along the riverbank.
Day 22 Vang Vieng
A 3 hour drive north takes us to beautiful Vang Vieng. This quiet town is set along the Nam Song river amidst rice fields and limestone karsts. Explore some of the caves by bicycle, or float down the river in a tire tube stopping off for a cold drink and zip line ride at one of the numerous bamboo bars. In the evening, soak in the beauty of Vang Vieng as the sun sets over the river.
Day 23-25 Luang Prabang (2B)
Today we take the bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang (approx 7 hours)
Luang Prabang has a magical feel about it. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, it is studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture. A visit to the Royal Palace Museum, which has remained untouched since the royal family departed in 1975, is sure to impress.
We will also have an option to hop on a songthaew to the beautiful Kuang Si falls, where pale turquoise waters cascade over limestone formations.
For a small additional cost there is also the option, for those who feel active and want to stretch their legs, to take a 3 to 4-hour walk through the countryside to the falls (in wet season it may be too slippery).
Day 26-27 Pakbeng/Chiang Khong
We board our boat for the 2-day journey up the mighty Mekong River to Chiang Khong. The journey is relaxed, as we experience the slow pace of village life and the breathtaking scenery along the river. We dock at the small town of Pak Beng to spend the night (approx 8 hours). The standard of accommodation in this trading port is basic but comfortable.Note that Pakbeng only has electricity from 6pm to 10pm and 6am to 10am.
The following morning we re-board our boat and cruise leisurely up the river before arriving at the Laos/Thai border and crossing in to Chiang Khong in the late afternoon (approx 7 hours).
Please note that the river boat is of a basic standard. Your leader will help arrange the purchase of food and drinks for the boat journeys. It can also be quite cold from November to February so make sure you have some warm gear packed!
Day 28 Chiang Mai/Overnight Train
Leaving Chiang Khong early in the morning we drive to Chiang Mai (approx 5 hours). You'll have the afternoon to explore. In the evening, we board our fan cooled overnight train for Bangkok (approx 12 hours).
Day 29-33 Bangkok
We'll arrive early in the morning to Bangkok, Thailand's capital city. The day is free to explore the many sights of Bangkok. The Grand Palace, Wat Po, National Museum, and Jim Thompson's House are just a few suggestions. A trip along the Chao Praya river and through the canals (or Klongs) gives you a different perspective of daily life in this busy city. In the evening we'll say good bye as we enjoy a Thai meal, some of the world's best food!
Day 34 Depart Bangkok (B)
Days 1-2 Delhi
Namaste! Welcome to India.
India's capital is an exciting, busy, and often chaotic city but certainly one of the most interesting. With well-preserved historical sites from many different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there is more to see and do than we can possibly fit in during our short time here. For those arriving early, there is an opportunity to discover some of the many attractions on your own - the ruins of Qutb Minar and Purana Qila, the crafts museum, Indira Gandhi Museum, Birla House (the site of Gandhi's assassination) and the centre of Imperial British India at Rajpath are all highly recommended.
We start day 2 with a visit to Old Delhi. The walled city of Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi, was the creation of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. In the morning, we visit one of its most impressive buildings and Delhi's oldest mosque, the Jama Masjid. Afterwards, we join the crowds, walking through the bazaars of the Old City, immersing ourselves in the noise and smells of the crowded narrow streets and alleys, where different areas specialise in festival paraphernalia, silk, copper, brass and spices.
Our hotel in Delhi is right in the heart of the city. Rooms have air-conditioning, private bathrooms with hot and cold running water. The hotel has a multi cuisine restaurant and internet cafe.
In the late afternoon of day 2 we leave on an overnight train for Jaisalmer (approx 19 hours). Our sleeper trains along the way are clean and air conditioned, and are a great way to travel long distances and still get maximum time in each place. Beds are padded berths, sheets, pillow and blankets are provided but some people prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Please note you may be sharing with locals in a same gender/mixed gender situation. Most trains have a dining carriage where food/snacks/meals are available.
Days 3-5 Jaisalmer
Travelling through the night, we wake to find a desert landscape as we travel across the stark Thar Desert. The 1,000 km journey takes around 19 hours and we should arrive in Jaisalmer around midday if there are no train delays.
Looking like a scene from 'The Thousand and One Nights' as it rises magically out the desert, Jaisalmer is a centre for nomadic tribespeople who come in to town to trade in the narrow twisting alleys full of markets and ornately carved houses.
Our accommodation in Jaisalmer is a guest house located in the fort itself with a roof top restaurant. Rooms have running hot and cold water in private bathrooms.
From our base in Jaisalmer, the Thar Desert is right on our doorstep and we take the opportunity to ride camels out over the sand dunes to spend a night out under the stars. At night, the riders get the camp fire burning and cook us dinner. In the morning, awaken early for an amazing desert sunrise, before a simple breakfast. This is a taste of the life of a nomadic trader and it's definitely travelling at its very best. While camping we stay in multishare tents. A seperate toilet tent will be set up.
Days 6-7 Jodhpur
A local bus carries us across the Thar Desert to Rajasthan's second-largest city, the busy and chaotic Jodhpur (approx. 5 hours). Full of fascinating artefacts, you may choose to take some time to explore the colossal Meherangarh Fort that dominates the city skyline.
Our hotel is situated in a very central position and has a rooftop cafe with an unbelievable view of the Meherangarh Fort and the old city. Only 5 minutes' walk away is Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. Built around the clock tower amid spice and vegetable markets, juice sellers and sari materials, Sadar Bazaar also has numerous vendors with carts selling everything from Bollywood soundtracks to armfuls of sparkling bangles. Jodhpur is famous for its antique shops and for the best lassi in India - well, that's our opinion! And yes, Jodhpur is where those famous trousers come from!
Out in the surrounding countryside are the Bishnoi tribal villages, which are well worth seeing. You leader can organise a visit for you on request.
Days 8-10 Udaipur
A bus takes us to Udaipur, the southernmost point of our trip (approx. 7 hours). Rolling hills, white marble palaces and lakes all combine to give Udaipur a very special appeal, and it certainly lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic city. It's a centre for artists, dancers and musicians and the shopping is simply superb.
Again, our hotel sits within walking distance of many of Udaipur's main points of interest, such as the Jagdish Temple, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the Garden of Maidens) and City Palace with its museums, crystal gallery and wealth of royal treasures.
Udaipur's famous Lake Pichola is a serene place to enjoy a boat ride and if you are gastronomically inclined, there is plenty of time to learn the art of Indian cooking at Spice Box, a deliciously fun must-do for all who come here. You could also visit a craft village and a folk museum or take in a fantastic cultural show at the Bagore-ki-Haveli - where you could even get up and join in the dancing! Journey out to the hilltop Monsoon Palace for sunset or spend lazy afternoons just taking in the views from a rooftop cafe, over a glass of hot, sweet chai.
Days 11-12 Pushkar
Today we travel by local bus to Pushkar (approx. 8 hours). Home to India's only Brahma temple as well as a holy lake, Pushkar is a major destination for pilgrims and sadhus (holy men) from all over India. The atmosphere is friendly and mellow, there is hardly any traffic and the town is small enough to walk around with ease.
While in Pushkar, be sure to spend some time exploring the main bazaar and many sidestreets - again, some great shopping can be done here with some of the cheapest clothes and jewellery to be found in northern India. Hang out in one of the gardens or rooftop restaurants or walk around the lake, with its bustling ghats and temples, to watch the devout as they worship at the holy waters. There is an optional early morning walk to the hilltop Savitri Temple for magical views over the town, and also a wonderful steaming glass of chai waiting for you if the chai man is there - certainly well worth the trek!
Days 13-14 Jaipur
Today we travel on a local bus (approx. 4 hours) to the 'Pink City' of Jaipur, where we find a friendly and busy town with palaces and bazaars full of jewellery, textiles and folk-based arts. Deep in the heart of the Old City lies India's most-photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal, also known as the 'Palace of the Winds'. Be sure to stop by and take some photos yourself!
Near Jaipur is the old capital of Amber, a majestic hilltop palace complex - which makes for a wonderful day trip. To fully get into Indian life, don't miss watching a Hindi movie - there is nowhere better than the Raj Mandir Cinema - 3 hours of song and dance for a couple of dollars can't be beaten!
Day 15 Bharatpur
We leave Jaipur by local bus (approx. 5 hours) to the city of Bharatpur, home to the famous Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, where a peaceful afternoon can be spent cycling around the Park. If birds are not your interest, you can visit surrounding villages with our host who is involved in projects to uplift rural development in the area.
Days 16-17 Agra
Leaving the early birds chirping, we head east by public bus for Agra (approx. 2 hours).
The Mughal city of Agra is home to one of the world's most instantly recognisable monuments - the Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz, this 'teardrop on the face of eternity', as it was described by Rabindranath Tagore, lives up to all expectations. Expensive to get into (INR750- around US$17), but worth every cent. There is also time to check out the Red Fort an impressive landmark of the Mughal dynasty left imprinted on the city.
In Agra our accommodation is at a basic property run by a local family, in a great location only 800 meters from the Eastern gate of the Taj Mahal. Rooms are basic with attached private bathrooms.
We leave for Varanasi on the overnight train on the evening of day 17 (approx. 8 hours).
Days 18-20 Varanasi
The holiest place for Hindus, Varanasi is a place where weeks can just melt by as you explore the amazing sights going on all around you. Pilgrims bathing and performing rituals and ceremonies unchanged for hundreds of years, temples full of bell chimes and the smell of incense, the dhobi wallahs, the burning ghats, the stories, the legends, the people - all of India seems to be encapsulated within this amazing city.
In Varanasi our accommodation is owned by a local Indian family. It is a simple hotel, situated right on the banks of the Ganges in the popular Assi Ghat area. Rooms are neat and clean property with attached bathrooms.
We take the train to Kolkata (Calcutta) early in the evening on day 20 (approx. 17 hours).
Days 21-24 Kolkata
Enjoy live music and parades on the the streets for the celebration of St. Patrick's Day. Take a walking tour of the city and enjoy a walk inside the Guinness brewery (don't worry Mom, I won't get too hammered...).
Day 4-5 Cork
Take a bus to a the Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone. Consider taking a bus ride to Killarney.
Day 6-8 Galway
Explore the Irish culture in the pubs and on the street. Listen to live music. Take a day trip to The Burren and see the Cliffs of Moher.
Day 9 Depart Ireland