Tag Archives: airline

Arrival in Kuching: first impressions

The Scoot flight from Singapore to Kuching landed a little after 9 pm on a Monday night. The money exchange bureau at the airport was closed  but a taxi driver accepted Singaporean dollars. Our journey to the Waterfront Hotel started. Everything looked much more developed than we had expected, and Kuching seemed like a big town. Everything felt very different from what we had seen on our previous trips. There seemed to be a balanced mixture of traditionalism (ancient temples etc) and modernity (fast-food chains etc). There is a French word “dépaysant”, which loosely translated means “exotic, unfamiliar”, and this is indeed how we felt. IMG_0369.JPGThe check-in at the Waterfront Hotel was friendly and professional. We were very hungry but the only way to eat was to order room service (overpriced, especially the beer, but tasty). Our room was clean, modern yet a bit bland. The room could have been in any of the world’s 4-star hotels.

Like often, everything looked brighter in the morning. We really liked our view.

There was the Indian neighborhood on the left, the 19th-century Old Court House Complex in front of our hotel, the old Chinatown on the right, and more hotels on the far right.  The majestic Sarawak river calmly flew in front of us.

Unfortunately after the breakfast we realized our daughter had fever. It kept coming and going during three days but stopped -as a doctor we had consulted had suggested- as abruptly as it had started after 72 hours. This however made us lose a few days so during her sick days we only walked around in different parts of Kuching and met our guide-to-be James to plan an efficient program for the rest of our stay. The elections that took place in Malaysia during our stay added an extra element of excitement to our already adventurous journey. The streets remained calm in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak but many places were closed and everyone we met was holding his breath while waiting for the results.  IMG_0478We ended up staying one full week in Kuching. During the first days we kept wondering whether we should move to another hotel or not. We usually like smaller hotels with a bit more charm combined with local touch, and the Waterfront Hotel just felt a bit dull. In the end we decided not to change: the staff was very friendly and the breakfast was great, but more about this in another post!

Kuching grew on us. We loved the fact that there was no tourist invasion. We were literally on the other side of the planet. A lot of the times it was only us and the locals. In retrospect I can say that Kuching was so different from anything else we had seen before that it took some time to get adjusted. On the other hand this is exactly what I love about traveling and why we travel –the goal for us is to find places that are “dépaysant” (exotic, unfamiliar, new, fresh, different…) and Kuching was all of that and beyond. We loved Kuching.

More detailed posts to come about accommodation, eating, sightseeing. Stay tuned!

Previous posts about our journey (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

May travel dilemma

When an unexpected holiday opportunity presented itself, we quickly started searching for cheap flights. You know, last minute can be expensive… at least so we thought!

Our criteria were: something hot, cheap/affordable, delicious food, wildlife, ocean swimming and culture. And of course suitable for a 3-year old toddler girl.

It should not be that difficult to combine all this, but if you are based in Europe you know that it is challenging to find a destination that falls under the aforementioned criteria. Our one-month-long trip to Greek islands two years ago (a fantastic trip I never had time to write about) was wonderful but also a good reminder that the sea water in Europe isn’t necessarily warm enough for swimming in May –even for a Finn like me!

I am subscribed to newsletters of almost every reputable airline existing in the world. I also follow http://www.secretflying.com and https://www.voyagespirates.fr. We usually fly Emirates to Asia but as Dubai has been getting more expensive due to the strengthening USD we felt it is time to try something else. Anyway, the Gulf-based airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad had nothing very exciting going on in terms of promotions (between 600-700€ per person). Finally, after going through Secret Flying promotions I came across with something really interesting: Paris-Singapore-Paris 439€ per person by Lufthansa! A real bargain, which is not even a special promotion. I called Lufthansa to ask some questions and I was told this is their standard price. Wow. Is flying becoming cheaper or have I been looking at wrong places before?

 

The next question was where to go from Singapore, which is not really a destination where you spend three week. I asked questions in various Facebook travel groups and one destination that a lot of people kept recommending was Borneo. We had thought of returning to Sri Lanka to see the regions we didn’t visit the last time (i.e. the North, the East and the Center). However, the more I read about Borneo, the more I became intrigued. I asked more questions in different travel forums and the decision was sealed. Borneo, and specifically Sarawak (one of the two states in the Malaysian Borneo) was going to be our new discovery!

Did Sarawak fulfill our dreams? Is it suitable for small children? To find out, stay tuned and follow Pearlspotting on Facebook and Instagram!

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

When Emirates sent out its winter offers last November, we didn’t think for a very long time before reserving the tickets: 1200€ for two adults and one child (less than two years), not bad! Hadn’t we chosen a Dubai stop-over, additional ticket flexibility and 30kg of baggage allowance per person (instead of 20kg) we could have gotten our Paris-Colombo return tickets for as low as 1000€. Flying an airline based in an oil-rich country has its advantages…

Sri Lanka had been on our travel list for a long time, and it felt like a safe yet fun option with a toddler. This was going to be our first long-distance trip with our daughter so naturally we had questions and hesitations in mind, but everyone we talked to was very reassuring. Comments like “It is not exactly Singapore, but Sri Lanka is VERY developed, clean and safe” and “Your daughter will love it; they love children over there” sealed our decision.

Loyal to our habit, there we were, planned another self-organized trip, still resisting to book an all-inclusive holiday that comes with toddler activities and clubs…

We were going to have 15 full days in the Emerald Ile of Asia. The initial plan was to do like most tourists do: get one or two nights of rest either in Negombo (where the airport is located) or in Colombo (located south from Negombo) before continuing to explore the rest of the island. I soon abandoned this idea, for the following reasons.

  1. Negombo didn’t feel like a place we would like stay: the sea is too dirty and dangerous to swim in and hotels seemed expensive for the quality one gets.
  2. Colombo, on the hand, seemed interesting, but we were just too tired to do city sightseeing, especially in the beginning of our trip. Big cities can be really tiresome with small children and our Palermo experience (http://wp.me/p35gzD-IA) was fresh in mind.
  3. Since Colombo was at least one hour away from the airport, I started to wonder “if we are going to sit in the car anyway, why not to drive a bit further to a really lovely beach destination?” Our flight was to land early in the morning, so we could also benefit from quiet roads. I was pretty sure our daughter would sleep in the car, so two hours in a car instead of one hour would make no difference.
IMG_4961.JPG

The Negombo beach isn’t really as pretty as this photo lets you think… The beach is quite dirty, the sea is rather dangerous, beach boys follow you around and you can smell sewage. We did eventually spend 1.5 nights there in the end of our holidays but hope we will never have to return.

So, the plan B was born: I started looking into beach destinations that were not too far from the airport. The Kalpitiya Peninsula caught my eye and it was only 2 – 2.5 hours away from the airport. The idea was to rest here for few nights and recover from the jetlag prior to intensive visiting in the Cultural Triangle where the ancient Buddhist sites are. The Kalpitiya region has only recently opened up to tourism  and is famous for kitesurfing, dolphin and whale watching, as well as for some of Sri Lanka’s best eco lodges. Unfortunately, many of the nicer hotels were not in our budget. We started to worry a bit; nobody had told us you need to spend more than 200USD/night  in order to get something comfortable in Sri Lanka!

This is when the plan C kicked in. All along my husband had kept reminding me “do not make us do too much driving, the goal of this trip is to rest”. I took a closer look at the most common circuit, which usually heads first to the Cultural Triangle and tea plantations, followed by beach time  (or the same circuit but in a reverse order). Distances seemed important… Had it been just two of us, no problem, but having a toddler sit in a car for a half day or more, several times during a 15-day holiday, started to look like a bad idea. So, sadly , we decided to entirely skip the Cultural Triangle and said to ourselves that we will just have to return to Sri Lanka another time. We decided to spend most of our holiday by the sea on the southern coast and try to include a visit to Yala National Park and some (rare!) religious sites of the south.

I started looking for a hotel around Hikkaduwa, the world-famous surf town. I purchased a print version of the Rough Guide and finally started to get a feel for Sri Lanka (I hadn’t appreciated the French Routard guide book). Beaches looked more attractive while prices started to seem more reasonable too. This is when I stumbled across a small town called Dodanduwa, just few kilometers south of Hikkaduwa, and we ended up spending first few days of our trip in a lovely small beachfront guesthouse, but more about that in the next post!

PS Sri Lanka is such a hot tourism destination at the moment so I bet many of you readers have visited this wonderful island. Do you have a perfect itinerary to suggest? Were you traveling with or without children? If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka at this very moment, congratulations on your great choice and I hope my post helps you to plan. Meanwhile, the Rough Guide has very good maps including different itineraries, see https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/itineraries/

 

 

Finland, here I come!

Due to some work commitments I have not been able to fix my travel dates until yesterday when I finally purchased tickets to visit Finland! Next Monday I fly the Finnish national carrier Finnair to Tampere (in the southern center part of Finland) via Helsinki, from where I will drive to the summer house with my parents. The summer house, the Finnish equivalent of paradise, here I come (am permitted to say paradise, because temperatures are supposed to climb close to 30C next week!).Finnish summer house I am very much looking forward to spending time at my family’s summer house by a lake, because this is where some of my best memories come from. Pike spotting in the willows, watching dragonflies land on the lake, breathing the century-old forest after the rain, heating the sauna, swimming in the lake, water skiing, picnic on one of the lake’s many islands, etc.

To get a glimpse of this place, see previous posts from last summer:

Finland, Land of the Midnight Sun
Summer holidays in Finland
Sauna Time
A typical Finnish meal after sauna
Fishing at midnight
Our beautiful lake has turned into a monster!
Finnish fish tajine (part 2)
Very easy tartiflette
The Wind in the Willows (kaislikossa suhisee)
A must-try at the Finnish summer house!

And a post about the Finnish Midsummer I wrote some weeks ago (includes beautiful photos!):

The Midsummer Weekend in Finland

PS It is difficult these days to figure out airlines’ logic! To my surprise, it was cheaper for me to purchase Paris-Helsinki-Tampere and Helsinki-Paris, than to buy a Paris-Helsinki-Paris. Curious. Until now I have mainly used SAS when I need to fly to cities other than Helsinki in Finland, but it seems Finnair does have some pretty good deals, too.

Adventurous Arrival in Varanasi

If you read  you may remember that our departure from Delhi was a bit adventurous, to say the least. Instead of Khajuraho we decided to fly to Varanasi and this was decided two hours before the flight’s take off. We do regret skipping Khajuraho, the site of famous erotic temples, but will certainly do it next time.

Flying toward Varanasi, the holy Hindu city along the Ganger River made me a bit nervous. I tried to get a glimpse of the sacred river from the airplane, but it got dark too soon. Seeing the Ganges River would have in some strange way assured me (of what?).SpiceJet from Delhi to VaranasiUpon landing we got talking to a young Indian man, living in the US, who had brought his grandmother to Varanasi. He started making phone calls to different hotels (we all agreed that the point of staying in Varanasi is to be located by the river). We got two rooms at Scindia Guest House, recommended by Eyewitness India Guidebook, and jumped into a taxi. Varanasi, here we come!

The ride to the guest house was long and polluted. It reminded me of Hyderabad –a fantastic city in many ways but oh so bad in pollution! We must have driven for more than an hour and the Ganges was still hiding from me. Suddenly the car stopped and the driver pointed “walk that way”. We were puzzled and asked which way exactly…. After some negotiation he agreed to show us the way, and we begun a 30-minute walk.Cows in VaranasiI don’t know how you say cow shit in a polite way, so excuse my language, but as we were walking and pulling our luggage, I did wonder if local laundry service would accept to clean our by-now-very-colorful-luggage. Don’t we all just love cows? But what would India be without them?

Eventually, after turning about 500 times left and right (we would have NEVER found the guest house alone) we arrived. Scindia Guest House stood there, right in front of the Ganges River, as Eyewitness had promised. It looked very run down, but we had no choice. It was very dark and very late. My husband and I got a river-side room and ordered two rice plates. Scindia Guest HouseWe were told to be careful when opening the balcony door because apparently “the monkeys like to come inside if you leave the door open”. Wow. Imagine waking up next to a monkey! Or two! I was still feeling a bit sick but the idea of monkeys excited me. Little I knew that upon our arrival the monkeys had already been watching me from all over.

After a well-rested night I visited the balcony but the monkeys were nowhere. All I could see was the majestic Ganges River. Varanasi, the Ganges RiverMeanwhile my husband went to the reception. This is when I started hearing screaming noises. Is someone being killed was my first thought. I opened the front door and I saw them: monkeys and more monkeys! There was a metal fence between me and them, which was good because they were big and did not look happy. Some of them were in the middle of their beauty treatments.Monkeys in VaranasiI joined my husband at the reception and had a chat with one of the hotel workers. I thought that his features were very different from other “Indian” features that I had seen before. Mentality wise he felt different, too, and somehow I felt closer to Calcutta. I was definitely visiting a new region, witnessing once again the diversity of India. Man in VaranasiThe moment I tried to go outside of the hotel, this elderly gentleman warned me “please be very careful of the monkeys”. Scared but curious I took a careful look outside and everywhere I looked (left, right, straight, down, above) there were monkeys. Not only entire monkeys but also monkey arms and legs hanging above the door etc.

For several reasons (monkeys, lack of a proper restaurant and customers, run-down building, etc.) we decided to move to another hotel. After negotiating a water taxi we said good bye to Scindia Guest House and moved to Alka Hotel, also located by the river. Later on we were told that Scindia Guest House had illegally built more rooms (and a terrace for the restaurant), and that the local authorities had torn a large part of the construction down. This explained the sad look. Scindia Guest HouseAfter a rough start we learned to love Varanasi. We spent a total of five nights there, exploring Hinduism and Buddhism. We loved the old town –one of the most charming old towns I have ever seen, and felt that Varanasi is indeed inhabited by many old souls.

In fact, Varanasi left such an impression on me that I will definitely write more about it. When the time is right.

Other posts about Varanasi:

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

 

Naked Men and Peacock Brushes

Sarnath to Buddhists is what Varanasi is to Hindus, but many people forget that Sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site to Jains. So important, that a careful observer can spot some very devoted Jains visiting the Sarnath complex. In fact so devoted that some of them are naked.

What? What do Sarnath, nudity and Jainisn have in common?? Continue reading to find out more.

I had just finished touring the Archaeological Museum of Sarnath (a really fantastic, small museum!) and was drinking water outside the museum entrance when my brain registered something “weird”. There they were, five fully-naked men, walking toward me. They were tanned, I noticed, and they wore absolutely nothing (I had to look twice to be sure). The only accessory each one of these men had was a beautiful, rather big brush made of peacock feather.

peacock-feather brush

It was one of those moments when my brain didn’t register very well everything happening around me. I looked at my husband, wondering if he had seen the same thing but I was also simultaneously asking myself if my water could have been drugged. My husband looked at me, and without hesitation we returned to the museum –partially fascinated by the most amazing appearance of nakedness, partially embarrassed of our brains that were sending signals of “strangeness”.

Indeed, why did we label nudity strange? Why were we astonished while the men seemed so content and at peace? Were our brains too narrow-minded and “western”? 

We followed the footsteps of these men during ten minutes and there was a lot to admire. Their courage to walk around naked. Their muscled bodies that had no tan lines. Their super elegant peacock brushes. Their deep concentration in front of the 2500-year-old statues. Their capacity to ignore people like us who could not take their eyes off them.

Eventually the men left the museum. They could have been transported away by flying peacocks and it would not have surprised me any more.

They left behind peace. We were smiling –no longer at the nakedness but at the beauty of this world and the diversity of India.

***

Note: Obviously I did not ask these men to pose for a photograph, so instead of naked men you will have to look at my legs!
The peacock fan in the photo is not identical to the one these Jain men had.

City hopping in India

Yesterday morning we said good bye to Varanasi by placing a floating candle in the Ganges, rode a taxi to the airport and checked into a flight to Calcutta. There had been two options regarding flying to the south –via Delhi or via Calcutta– and since we have never been to Calcutta, we chose the latter option. The second reason was that we were really eager to taste Bengali food.CalcuttaOur time in Calcutta was limited to fourteen hours but it was enough to fall in love with this former capital of India. It seemed very colorful, lively and culturally vivid, and yes, the food was out of this world. At 4.30 in the morning when we got into a taxi, the city was preparing itself for a new day. Market vendors were getting thousands of chicken out to the street and the yellow cabs were moving fast as ants. It was indeed a very memorable departure from Calcutta, and we will without any doubt return to experience more as soon as we can!Calcutta New MarketFrom Calcultta we flew to Bombay, changed into a different Jet Airways plane, flew over the house of our Bombay friends that we are going to see in one week, and some two hours later landed in Trivandrum, Kerala.

Almost every time I move from one place to another in India I fall in love with the new place. The Indian continent is extremely diversified and I absolutely love the fact the every new destination reveals something new to me, be it textiles, clothes, style, food, art, culture, religion or architecture.

Moreover, thinking about being in Varanasi, the holy Hindu city, yesterday morning, spending the night in the British-influenced Calcutta and writing this post from my bed in Kerala where I am surrounded by coconut trees, Ayurveda doctors and the Indian Ocean is mind blowing. Apart from incredible India, in which other country one can in less than 48 hours so easily travel between such culturally diversified places?