This is the first of our monthly updates which we’re starting now that we’re travelling full time. Cindy and I actually left Australia in mid October so I’ve rolled that couple of weeks into November’s update.
By the end of November we’d travelled through two countries, India and Thailand. It was our very first visit to India, whereas we’d visited Thailand over 15 years ago and were eager to see what had changed.
First Impressions of India
Truthfully India was always one of those countries that we’d held off visiting. There was so much that attracted us to it, the amazing food, the colourful festivals, the amazing history and architecture and the Indian people themselves.
But although we had travelled through much of South East Asia already, we had stuck in our heads this idea that India might be too much of a culture shock for even us. In particular, I was quite worried about getting sick there. Whereas Cindy has an iron gut, I always manage to fall ill at the end of almost every holiday to the region!
But it turned out that all of our fears were unwarranted. We absolutely loved India. It’s such a large and wonderfully diverse country that you could easily spend months there and not have covered it all. Miraculously I also managed to not get sick at all (I saved that for Thailand!).
We mainly explored the regions of Rajasthan during our two and a half weeks in India, which leaves us much of the country to explore later.
We had an organised private tour with our own driver which worked out well. The only thing that was slightly awkward was when our driver strongly hinted that we should visit local arts and craft exhibitions (where he likely received commission if we bought anything) and we had to keep insisting we didn’t want to because we had no room for souvenir.
But aside from that, our private tour provided a nice taste of India without the hassle of a group tour.
Our Favourite Bits of India
Our favourite places in India were Udaipur, Varanasi and Ranthambore National Park. While there’s not much to see in Agra, we certainly enjoyed visiting the Taj Mahal which is an absolute must for anyone heading to India.
But aside from those places, there we a few unexpected things that we loved about India.
We knew that we’d have some great food in India. We love Indian food and we eat a lot of it back home in Australia. But what surprised us the most was the difference between what we ate in India and what we get back home. It’s almost like the difference between true Mexican food and the Tex Mex version.
When we visit an Asian country we’ll sometimes get sick of eating the local dishes after a couple of weeks and start craving western food. But we never got sick of Indian food. The flavours were just amazing and there were some incredible vegetarian dishes and plenty of spice! In particular the paneer tasted so much better than what we can buy in Australia.
Cows and Other Wildlife
While we knew before we visited that cows were sacred in India and that you’d often find them in the middle of the road, we didn’t appreciate just quite how frequently that would be and how much their presence would add to our enjoyment. They provide a wonderful calming influence that counterbalances the craziness of Indian cities.
Some of our best memories involve cows, such as the time we came across a couple of them happily exploring the backstreets of Udaipur’s old town searching for snacks. Luckily most of the cows in India appeared quite healthy and locals will often bring them grass to eat in the morning. However we also saw groups of cows on top of garbage piles scavenging for food which was sad to see.
India has plenty of other wildlife such as large number of monkeys, beautiful eagles, deer, elephants and of course our favourite, the endangered Bengal tiger.
The Street Art
Whether it was walking the alleyways of Udaipur or along the ghats of Varanasi, we saw street art everywhere in India. It had a very distinctive and somewhat spiritual style to it which we really enjoyed.
The Painted Trucks
In India all of the trucks are hand painted, right down to their signage and logos. It gives them a very distinctive look. Some of the trucks take it to the next level with their decorations.
I especially enjoyed that the signage on the trucks was alway super polite. For example, instead of saying just “honk when passing” as they would in Australia, they would instead write “honk please OK” in bright colourful lettering. Here’s a link to some more examples.
Heading Back To Thailand
We visited Thailand for the first time over fifteen years ago, just before the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami. We spent time in Bangkok before heading to Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and then on to Koh Phi Phi, which was later virtually destroyed by the tsunami.
While back then we loved most parts of that holiday, I can’t say we were blown away by Bangkok. It seemed like just another dirty and busy big city and we were quite glad to leave it.
But heading back to Bangkok this time around everything felt different. Although we covered much of the same ground as before, we really enjoyed the city. Perhaps part of that was due to the area that we stayed in but more likely it was because we’ve grown accustomed to the chaos of large cities and have learnt just to lean back and enjoy the madness. The food in Bangkok was also probably some of the nicest we had during our Thailand visit.
Flying straight from Mumbai into Bangkok, we definitely noticed the stark contrast between India and Thailand. Even though Bangkok is a bustling metropolis, it was almost relaxing arriving there and not having to worry about being hassled by store owners or street vendors.
Our Favourite Stops in Thailand
Our favourite places in Thailand this time around were Bankgok, Chiang Mai, Koh Lanta and Ayuthaya. Yep that’s pretty much the whole trip! Out of those cities, Bangkok wins the award for the best food experience and Koh Lanta was certainly our most relaxing stay.
While I was pretty much templed out by the time we reached Ayuthaya (it doesn’t take me long!), we were fortunate to stay in a lovely family run guesthouse where they lent us bikes to ride around the temple precinct. They also took us to visit the local night market which was one of the best we’ve seen food wise. In general we just really enjoyed the relaxed vibe in Ayuthaya.
We loved Chiang Mai on our first trip to Thailand and it’s only improved since then. We stayed quite a while there, hiring an Airbnb apartment just outside the old town for about ten days.
We arrived in Chiang Mai just in time for the Yiping Lantern festival which was one of the highlights of our time in the city. It was totally crazy but we loved it.
Another highlight of our visit to Chiang Mai was our two day stay at the Elephant Nature Park where they care for elephants rescued from the logging, circus and trekking industries. It was fantastic to see what they’d managed to do for these beautiful creatures.
It’s hard to believe that we packed so much into just a month and a half but it’s been a blast. After Thailand we headed over into Laos and then on to Cambodia. But that’s a story for December’s update, so stay tuned!