Category Archives: International Travel

#TheBeachTrail2017-India to Koh Phangan in 24 hours-The First Day

This episode talks about travelling from Chennai to Koh Phangan on Day 1 of our trip. The Beach’ was a Danny Boyle movie based on a novel by Alex Garland set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand.Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’.

“When you develop an infatuation for someone you always find a reason to believe that this is exactly the person for you. It doesn’t need to be a good reason.  But in the haze of infatuation, it’s just what you’ve been searching for all these years.”  (The Beach-1997-Alex Garland also made as a motion picture by Danny Boyle starring Leonardo Di Caprio)

6 pm– 7th April 2016
At the Airport
At the Airport

 

Walking in the heated cauldron, between the domestic and international terminal, I knew my infatuation was moments away.  In a few minutes, I would be up in the air flying to the object of my infatuation. It was 9 years, since I was infatuated and 20 years since the ‘infatuation’ came to life. It was a novel called ‘The Beach’ which was my infatuation. I connected with the book and the dialogues so much, that I had to probably relive the novel by traveling on the same trail. That beach trail! My object of infatuation and I had to celebrate 20 years of the book being written by being on the same trail!

 
March 2016
 
The DVD of ‘The Beach’ lay in my shelf, bruised from the number of times, its been called on for moments of inspiration. As the bandwidth became better over the years, I just chose Youtube and Google Play for playing it. But what was probably missing in these 9 years was to maybe do the trail that ‘Richard’ did. There’s a whole lot of a difference between real travel and vicarious travel, and at some point, I had to break the shackles that the ‘mental disorders’ I suffered from. As a traveller, who wanted to teach his little son the beauty of geography by traveling each summer to the lands that he was to study, I suffered from the normal mental disorders that city bred B-School educated people have by choosing the safe life which had 2 house EMI’s choking the explorer in me. My son and I had seen enough videos on youtube of ‘The Beach’ and the trail that lay ahead in Thailand. I mean enough videos that popped in my “Watch Again” list on Youtube.
 
“If I’d learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”
― Alex Garland- The Beach
 
This quote got my goat. It felt like a bunch of words, slit me through my neck and told me ‘No more excuses’. I called up my friends over a whatsapp group and decided to go ahead and book. I was not quite sure when to go and whether #TheBeachTrail would be possible. We went over to many of the travel planning sites and started entering the destination pair rates one by one, and we found the visual map search on SkyScanner called ‘Inspire’ interesting that it allowed us to see prices of destinations from Chennai in one visual map.
Bangkok seemed a lot cheaper, than some of the other destinations like Colombo, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur. In one long WhatsApp Conversation, the three of us decided on Bangkok to plan our onward and return tickets, and to figure out the rest of things on the go. Tickets booked, we all knew that the that ‘slitting’ quote was behind us. We were going to Alex Garland’s world like Richard did.
 
Now
 
Ok. Who is Alex Garland? Who is Richard? Why are they even important?
Alex Garland was a writer who wrote a book called The Beach’ which was also converted into a Danny Boyle movie which was set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand to find that ideal place for life, where only happiness exists! Paradise basically. Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’.
9:05 pm– 7th April 2016
 
The Air Asia flight was in an hour, and I still had not checked in my luggage. The three of us had met earlier this morning having a look at our luggage for the trip. We had a small equation to solve before we checked in. I had 2 camera bags and a huge suitcase( mostly empty). My friends had single bags. Air Asia allowed us with only 1 bag weighing 7 kg for each of us, and one suitcase of 20 kg (which is the paid luggage we had declared). After 10 minutes of manic scrambling and re-arranging our baggages, we had our weights exactly showing 7 kg for each of the 3 bags, and 20 kg’s for the bag. The Air Asia guy at the terminal was smiling at our level of planning. He removed some heavy paper stickers on suitcase from previous trips, and it brought the weight down to 19.8 Kgs. Our first major port of trouble had been sorted! 
Winning the Luggage War with Air Asia
Winning the Luggage War with Air Asia
 
As soon as we got into the flight, we got our seats. 11A, 11B and 11C. Those numbers were about to transport us away from the familiar as the humid night of Chennai merged with the pleasant morning of Bangkok. Once the seat belts sign were lit up, our world back home in India switched off, as we were on an epic journey to relive a movie. A movie where we were viewers, to maybe a character in the movie. We trusted the armrests and minimal angle backrests with our dreams of our holiday as travelers, along with scores of tourists. I asked myself-why do we place so much trust in travel and places to transform our world. Was the hidden energies in the world subliminally telling us to listen in and call it intuition? Maybe
We landed in Bangkok, bleary eyed and ready for action, as we had to land at 3:30 am, and board our bus in Khao San Road, which was about 30 odd kilometres from the Don Muang Airport. A rushed card drive on an Uber, meant we were well in time at 5 30 am for our 6 am bus. I noticed a French co-passenger in an interestingly captioned shirt, which admonishes Mondays. We were in a zone that did not require us to know which day of the week it was. We were pleasantly teeing off the Saturday with a nice ride in a Lomprayah Bus+ Ferry ticket across the eastern nerve centre of Thailand’s tail.
Never Say Monday
Never Say Monday

Watching the Thai countryside unfold layer by layer, I noticed that the country had a wonderful roadway infrastructure. I never remember seeing pothole ridden roads on my commute 0n the Lomprayah Bus. It alternated between clean roads, crowded junctions, forests shrouded in green and brown until Hua Hin, and then from then on we started seeing beaches a couple of feet from the bus as we alternated between beaches and green reserves of forests, before making way inside the Chumphon National park to reach the pier.

At the Pier, we were blown away by what we saw. The transition from being spectators to being a character had been complete. We were in Thailand staring at a beach that had waters alternating between Green and Blue. We had enough green cover where the palm trees grew over one another on hills by the beaches. Our dream #TheBeachTrail2017 was about to begin.

Chumphon's magical colours-Thailand
Chumphon’s magical colours-Thailand

If you are itching to know what happened on the Ferry, do watch the below video film of our trip which has more details as part of the Trailer.

To view the rest of the posts, click below for

Part-1-Where we settle in Koh Phangan

Part-2-Where we discover our beach bum traits at Coco-Hut

Part-3-In Search of Chaloklum’s paradise

Part-4-Celebrating ‘The Beach’ in Anthong and Songkaran in Ko Tao

#TravellerStories-03-Of Happy Pizzas and Other Stories!

Let’s meet Nikhilesh Murthy who is third on this series called  #TravellerStories. He’s a traveller from Bangalore in India  who blogs at about lifestyle and culture in various places. He is a marketer for an IT company in Bangalore. In this episode, we throw a few questions at him and find out what he likes and doesn’t.

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStories? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!
Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

For all practical purposes, I am a “Bangalorean”. While my roots are in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, I only go there once a year to visit the family deity. I work in the marketing department of an IT company and am responsible for one of their technology functions. When I’m not doing that, I’m busy attending music shows or trying out new food at places across the city. I make it a point to take a few weeks off every six months and go travelling, some times on my own, sometimes thanks to work.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

Most folks I’ve met are always surprised as to how I can speak English so clearly (and many times better than them). They also get surprised when I talk about world politics, western music, etc and don’t know too much about fixing computers. Many folks also get a bit shocked when I talk about bands like Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Black Keys  and musicians like Miles Davis or Jack White because their assumption is that we all listen only to “Indian music”, which is either Punjabi music ( an opinion of folks from the UK and Canada) or Bollywood music. I also enjoy living in hostels and travelling solo. So many of the local folk find it odd that I’m not sticking to the general impression they have that Indians (like the Chinese) travel in large groups and are quite loud. I wouldn’t completely blame them for that stereotype.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

I always encourage folks to try out the famous masala dosa in Bengaluru. I’ve taken a handful of foreign friends to the Airlines Hotel ( but CTR in Malleswaram is the best). And they love that along with the vada. They find “the savoury peppery donut” quite fascinating.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) ?

I don’t think there is a single place as such that comes to mind. So many options – Mysore, Mangalore, Coorg, Chikmaglur just to name a few. Each of these are very different from the urban jungle of Bengaluru. Less traffic, more polite folks, a lot of nature to discover. And not to forget, great food. Just try the pandi curry (pork curry) in the average Coorg household or the ghee roast in a Mangalorean house to know what an array of flavours we have to offer.

E) Of all your travels on work, which city charmed you the most and why?

I was in love with New York for the longest time, but a trip to New Orleans changed all that. The culture and vibe of the city is very unlike any other US city I’ve been to. There’s jazz and blues at every corner; come night time, the bands play on the streets and people dance away. Not to forget the cajun styled food which offers familiar Indian flavours yet is completely different. The architecture of the old French and Spanish styled streets make for beautiful pictures. I was fortunate to be in the city during the French Quarter music festival. It was an experience like no other and is now the benchmark for what a music festival should be.

F) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling? 

Most of these stories are best shared over a cold brew. To name one,  I would have to say that during my recent trip to Cambodia, eating a pizza topped with some unmentionable organic elements, which led to some embarrassing situations once the good stuff kicked in, was not one of the brightest ideas I’ve had.

Nikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor VatNikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor Vat

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

#TravellerStories-01- Of Camping at Wimbledon and Other Stories

Let’s meet Verushka Ramasami who inaugurates this series called #TravellerStoriesXX. She’s a traveller from Durban (which she thinks is the best place in South Africa) who blogs at SpiceGoddess. She works as a Travel and Tourism lecturer and is a lifestyle blogger when the sun sets over Kwazulu Natal. In this episode, we throw a few questions at her and find out what she likes and doesn’t. Since this is an experiment, feel free to comment and help us out with interesting questions.

Verushka Ramasami
Verushka Ramasami

 

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStoriesXX? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

 

 

 

 

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I am from Durban ,South Africa. By day I am a Travel and Tourism Lecturer and by night a Lifestyle Blogger. My blog has a focus on Food , Travel and Culture.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

” Do you live in a treehouse ?”
” Do you speak African ?”
” Do you have a Lion as a pet ?”

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

Definitely a Bunny Chow ! No there are no bunnies harmed in the making of this dish. The dish is a quarter loaf of unsliced bread that is hollowed out and filled with either a vegetable or meat curry. It is eaten by hand so no cutlery. The dish originated from the indentured Indian laborers who came to work on the sugar cane fields in South Africa and use this as a way to transport their food to work.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) and send us a photo with you in it

I love travelling and have travelled to some pretty amazing places around the world. For 2016 my favourite place is Kerala , which was my first trip to India.

E) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling?

I think every trip has a crazy adventure. But one that sticks out is while I was in London and we camped on the road for tickets to Wimbledon. It was worth it though as we got centre court tickets.

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

A Day out at Lords-London

When I got off the tube at St John’s wood, and proceeded in the direction that most people were walking, I felt a strange sense of home coming with a bunch of strangers. I paused for a second, I took a deep breath. This was not for taking in oxygen in a crowded place, but rather to come to terms with reality of a dream that was a 100 steps from coming true. The enormity of being right next door to the Lords Stadium was overwhelming me. It probably was about the place, but not the occasion as a lowly West Indies team were playing England on the ascent, Johnny Bairstow was making his debut, Kemar Roach was ripping leather bolts-Not quite the stuff that cricket fans would be relishing to compromise their sleep over, but it was enough to make me like I was entering a magical kingdom. I walked out of the station, and felt the chill in the Summer air, hit my face. It was summer as they said, but it was chiller than Bangalore where I lived.

Lords Ground in LondonLords Ground in London

I heard touts selling tickets, outside the ground. I obviously had not planned coming to London to have booked tickets earlier at Lords, so I went forward knowing fully well that I would probably go upto 50 Pounds to buy a match ticket. There are something in life you feel priveleged to be paying surge-pricing, and I was not going to argue on price. Once I had the ticket in my hand, my chest swelled with pride, and I strode into the Lords ground, walking my way to the John Edrich stand. I turned around and checked that the Middlesex county had no stand named after Mike Gatting, one of their more famous sons. Maybe if Gatting had not done that reverse sweep in Kolkata, and England had won the 1987 World Cup, he would have a stand in his name. Guess what, as I was thinking and settling into my seat, I happened to bump into the man, who’s here conducting a fans activation show for the local sponsor.

Mike Gatting at Lords
Mike Gatting at Lords

When I started to settle in my seat, I quite enjoyed the view from the Edrich stand. It was a view facing the grand pavillion and while I was at Thirdman, the replay screen was diagonally opposite me which meant, I could also watch replays of how the action panned out. Good seats for the 50 pounds!

Aleem Dar Reversing a decisionAleem Dar Reversing a decision

The greens of the grass against the brown of the players pavillion, brought out the contrast of the players in white very well. The only constraint was the morning sun, which never came in the time I was there. Here’s Ian bell shepharding the tail as England march to a first innings lead. Watching the cricket in London was so different from watching it in India in the sense that people would come all buttoned up and upright in coats. They seemed to have a schedule of sorts in watching the cricket, and getting to one of the stands called the Tavern stands, where the cricket fans would drink. The members would sit opposite the edrich stand at the Grand stand, and would stand and applaud as the players would walk through them. This is something I had heard when I had earlier gone on a Lords tour. Also there were no restrictions on bringing in Cameras. Back in India, I remember being stopped for bringing my Nikon SLR by the police, despite the fact that I had ICC’s letter as an official fan engagement photographer for the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The fans came first here. The ECB had a fan engagement program called the ‘The Twelth Man’ back then, and it showed how much they valued the fan, who was paying money and spending his time watching a bunch of people entertain in flannels over leather and wood.

Driving at LordsDriving at Lords

By the time, the afternoon came, the ground was partially flood lit, owing to the simmering rain clouds which threatened to pour. It was a surreal sight watching a panorama of the ground being completely lit up.

Panorama of Lords GroundPanorama of Lords Ground

England were playing out overs, and were content to score at a snail’s pace.  I decided to head out during the interval to check the scenes in the ground. I found Phil Tufnel, the yesteryear finger spinner signing autographs for his book,while a Carribean fan decided to dedicate a whole shirt to autographs. Now comes the question of asking, if these autographs were accumulated over the years.

Back in the 1990’s, my mother used to work in the hopitality industry, which opened quite a few doors for me, whenever the cricketers were playing in Chennai, I would have access to meeting them. I would meet them, listen to their inane jokes and wait for hours for their autographs. The nerd that I was,I would also rattle stats to them about their own batting. I remember doing that with a rather young Sanath Jayasuriya in 1992 when he was part of a World XI playing a Wills Indian XI at Chepauk.

Cricket Fan at Lords, London
Cricket Fan at Lords, London

While someone managed to get one on a test match hat. I remember using autograph books, shirts and bats but never a hat for memory.

Wearing Your Autograph

Meanwhile, lunch was being served, and I could have none of it below, since there was no vegetarian fare on display. I had to make do with cup cakes.

Tandoori Chicken for lunch at Lords, London
Tandoori Chicken for lunch at Lords, London

A little further down were dancers from the Carribean country of Barbados. They hired a bunch of dancers and and an offline activation booth outside the Edrich stand. I somehow felt that commercial tourism could be sold better. All these tourism agencies have the same ideas which go on the lines of “Lets-show-some-local-flavour-and-dance-and-sell-tourism”. I am not quite sure that’s the way to sell travel. As a traveller, I would have loved to hear a cricket connect to the place, and then hear about possibilities of Barbados like visiting certain beaches/experiences that only Barbados could deliver. Maybe someday when I have enough influence in the world of travel, I will love to help tourism agencies tell better stories at why travellers should visit them.

Barbados Dancers in London
Barbados Dancers in London

Travel Post Cards 04

This edition features some low resolution photos from the little island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia

“This series, called the Travel Postcards are basically the short story version of a single frame. Some tales are told between 2 sips of your juice. These are those tales. Not too long, Not too short, a little context, a little perspective and yes, they do act as a pill, that you can pop up for some travel inspiration”

 

If you go to Bali, and are quite fed up with all the touristy actions along Kuta, and if you’d like a Robinson Crusoe experience, in a quiet island, but with SCUBA Diving, Partying, Beach Cafes and no honking at all, go pick any of the 3 Gili Island. These islands are closer to Lombok province of Indonesia (Air Aisa flies to Lombok now). The rampant tourism in Bali spoilt the ecosystem, and brought in traffic jams to an island that feasted on palm trees and the sea. The locals fearing the same, decided that Gili will not meet Bali’s fate and they decided to have no vehicles on the Gili Islands. Also, there is no police on the island as the people govern by themselves and police comes here once in a while to check on things. The island is idyllic with white sand and blue waters, and despite its flashpacker vibe, the island still is never as crowded as the beaches in Bali. On an index of crowded to totally Crusoe level, you move from Gili Trawangan > Gili Meno > Gili Air.  To know more, there will be a series of detailed posts on the island shortly.

Open Air Toilets in Gili Trawangan
Open Air Toilets in Gili Trawangan

 

Cidomo- The only mode of horseback travel on the Gili Island
Cidomo- The only mode of horseback travel on the Gili Island

The Lankan Beach Cure-Part III

This little series explores Sri Lanka through its beaches. A day out at the beach along the Dehivala-Galle line shows up some beautiful sights. Join in me in my experiences in Sri Lanka

The day so far in Colombo, had been very relaxed on Poya day by the beach. I wandered by the railway tracks to find some place to eat. I realised I was in the lovers zone, and was invading the privacy of hormones on display, every step I took. If you landed here directly, do check out Part-1 and Part 2 of this series, and then read on.

Love is in the air!

The beach had lovers, The area by the boats had lovers, the trees near the railway tracks had lovers, and the railway tracks also had couples. Talk about dinning it in on a solo trip, that you don’t have a partner around! I waded through all the romance, and found a place to have some fried rice, and went back to the beach at Mount Lavinia, lying on the beach, and letting the waters wash me of my ego, pride and prejudice, and enjoyed the sunset before returning home, a wiser man, after a day of silence and spending time observing myself.

 

Couples in Colombo romance by the railway track
Couples in Colombo romance by the railway track

 

Couples romancing in Colombo by the Sea
Couples romancing in Colombo by the Sea

The next Sanath? Sanga? Tharanga? Ranatunga?

I always remember Sri Lanka, as the land of left handers. From the times of Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya (or his clone Kusal Perera), Sanga or Tharanga, Sri Lanka has always managed to produce a line of south paws who make cricket very interesting with their batting.

Cricket in Colombo by the beach
Cricket by the beach! Southpaws on Fire!

 

Evening sunset at Mount Lavinia in Colombo
Evening sunset at Mount Lavinia in Colombo

 

Evening Sunset by Mount Lavinia-Colombo
Evening Sunset by Mount Lavinia-Colombo