Tuesday Travels | A Look Inside One of India’s Largest Slum

When I tell you that Dharavi is one of India’s largest slums, what comes to mind? Okay, hold that thought.

Now watch this video..& tell me.

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Chai & Chats with: Natasha Sandhu

By now, you must have heard of the extremely talented Arjun Coomaraswamy.

If not, check out our interview with him here.

Behind every successful artist is usually a very organised management team and Arjun’s is no different. However, not only is Arjun’s personal assistant committed to helping promote his talent, Natasha Sandhu is also a full-time qualified doctor, singer and model.

The Asian Destination finds out how she manages to balance being an integral member of Arjun’s management team, her own creative projects as well as a career in medicine.

Natasha Sandhu

TAD: How did you first become Arjun’s personal assistant?

NS: I first met Arjun when we were assigned to sing together at a show, over 4 years ago now! That very moment I heard him sing at our first rehearsal I thought,

“Wow this guy is destined for big things”.

I was so blown away by how humble yet talented he was which meant helping him a no-brainer. I’ve believed in him from day one and he is now one of my best friends, which is why he trusts me to be part of the team. Since then, I’ve become increasingly involved in helping with his day-to-day affairs, touring, online PR, styling etc alongside his main management, Crown.

I’ll always have his back and work hard to help his talent get recognised.

TAD: You’re a qualified doctor, what stage are you in your medical career? What is your specialty/what are you hoping to specialise in?

NS: Yes I’m a full-time working doctor now, which shocks a lot of people in the media industry. I qualified 2 years ago, so work is really busy with increasingly more responsibilities.

In the long term I want to be a General Practitioner since you build long-term relationships with patients, there is more scope for variety and I find the daily work in hospital specialities too repetitive.

Plus I’d have more flexibility to keep travelling, helping Arjun with his music, and doing my own projects, as they are all passions I cannot give up! But I love A&E so I plan to locum in that for the excitement.

I’ve also had an interest in international health promotion and human rights since I was a teenager (UN and Amnesty) so I want to take time out of clinical medicine and get more involved with that later.

TAD: Are we right in thinking as well as your PA job and medicine you’re also an aspiring singer and model? Tell us more about these other passions of yours.

NS: Err, yes I can sing English R&B/pop and have performed a lot but I’m not planning a singing career!

My favourite performances involve a Beyoncé song since I am OBSESSED with her!

If you have heard Arjun’s Kabhi Kabhi I sang in that with my ‘sister’ Shivali but I cringe singing it since I’m not fluent in Hindi (yet!).

Nowadays I don’t sing solo since it’s only been a hobby for me, and there is no time. On tour though, whether it’s Kabhi Khabhi or an acoustic cover of an English song, I love singing on tour with Arjun.

I’ve done mainly editorial modelling since I was 14, but it’s been on and off due to medicine meaning I cannot make most shoots in working hours.

It has picked up again though and I’ve had some fun shoots in the past 3 years with my agencies.

It’s something I don’t talk about much since I do it for me rather than to talk about it, and I’ve experienced girls becoming judgemental or jealous in the past so I’d rather keep most of it to myself. However, I LOVE fashion, so when opportunities have arisen I’ve taken them since I don’t want to regret it later.

TAD: Is there anything you can’t do?! Should we be looking out for you on the next series of The Apprentice?!

NS: Trust me I’m useless at SO many things! I can’t act, I can’t play a bunch of instruments I’d love to, I can’t rap (haha imagine!), I’m not as multi-lingual as I’d love to be… the list goes on! Doing multiple things doesn’t mean I’m amazing at everything I do or that I don’t wish there were other things I could do. Besides nobody multi-tasks as well as my mumI swear mothers are superhuman right?!

Natasha Sandhu

TAD: Most doctors find it difficult to juggle medicine and other personal commitments, how do you find time to balance a second career whilst also pursuing other interests as well?

NS: My dad always taught me to “work hard, play hard” so it’s down to him! Ever since I was at school, I would study but every evening I’d have a different extra-curricular activity. I just liked being busy even then. I’ve never needed 8 hours of sleep and my diary is my life – organisation is the key; you have to know when to say no and what your limits are.

TAD: How do you stop yourself from burning out? How do you relax?

NS: Spending time with family, especially my sister, and friends is important to me. It’s definitely the best way to relax – you can’t replace girly nights-in! I’ve recently tried yoga plus the occasional massage also helps! I like going to the movies, working-out, shopping, and reading.

Travelling has always been one of my favourite things in life and I have fortunately grown up going abroad to a different country with my family every year. So as manic as touring with Arjun can be at times, I do find it relaxing in itself and I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die.

Natasha & Arjun

TAD: And what advice would you give to other people out there that may have gone down one specific career path but may be thinking of switching?

NS: Actions speak louder than words so if you want to do something different even as a hobby don’t waste time! Don’t ever regret not trying something if you’re passionate about it. But take calculated risks; if you’re worried about switching careers and possibly risking everything just wean into your new path part-time. Then if you think it will work for you great, and if not at least you have tried rather than wondering ‘what if?’

TAD: What’s next for you?

NS: I will have important medical exams over the next 3 years so I can’t wait to get them done and focus on the speciality I enjoy. Arjun is releasing his first mainstream single ‘Take It Back’ very soon so I am very busy with that release (you guys will LOVE it!) and we are finalising his album and talking to international music labels. I’ll continue to travel as much as possible, stay happy, and who knows what else the future holds!

We wish Natasha all the best with her future endeavours.

Be sure to check out Natasha on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Have a listen to Kabhi Kabhi here:


If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Arjun Coomaraswamy

Chai & Chats with: Roshni Chugani

Chai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia

Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett

Chai & Chats with: Amilla Javed

Chai & Chats with: Jesbir Bahia

from Destination: Interviews

Happy Durga Puja

Happy Kali Puja & Diwali

from Destination: Celebration

The Asian Destination Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

The Asian Destination Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

Girls, do you agree?

image

 

A little joke for the Bank Holiday weekend! xo

The Asian Destination Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

Destination: China

Destiantion China

“FONG-SUM!”

Come visit China as Gimi takes us on her travels and we learn what Ana & Emily miss about living in China!

“UMH GOI SAI!”

“CHI-SIN!”

Whynn Resort and Casino, Macau - Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Whynn Resort and Casino, Macau – Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Areas of the country I visited:

G: Hong Kong, Hainan, Sichuan province (in particular Chongqing), Guizhou province, Yangtze river for 2 weeks.

E: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Hai Nan, Macau, Xi An, Harbin, Tibet, Xin Jiang.

A: Lived in Macau.

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Favourite monument/place that I went:

G: Three Gorges area of Yangtze river.

E: Kashgar (in xin jiang).

A: My favourite palces are: Porto Interior, Largo dos três candeeiros – A more traditional part of Macau, untouched by casinos and the modern world. You can find quirky shops with handmade artifacts and unique items of clothing and decorations.

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Café Esplanada at the Wynn Resort and Casino is one of my favourite places to unwind and enjoy afternoon tea. Caravela is a Portuguese restaurant/cafe in the center of Macau, staff and owners are really friendly and you get to experience a bit of Portuguese cuisine in China!

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Describe the country in 3 words:

G: Contrasting, cultural, colourful.

E: Exciting, international, diverse.

A: Dynamic, multicultural, and exciting.

Café Esplanada - Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Café Esplanada – Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

I wasn’t expecting to find:

G: Boiled chicken.

E: So many western shops.

A: The Batmobile!

The Batmobile - Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

The Batmobile – Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

My favourite part of the culture was:

G: The beautiful paintings and scriptures.

E: The language.

A: Learning about the different superstitions they had. For instance, for the first 15 days after the Chinese New year, people don’t cut their hair because ‘hair’ is a homophone for ‘prosperity’ so they believe they might be ‘cutting’ their wealth away!

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

I would describe the people as:

G:  Curious and friendly.

E: Talkative/friendly.

A: Very friendly, warm and hard-working.

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

I was surprised by:

G: I was surprised that people would want to take pictures with me because I seemed to be the only white person they had ever seen!

E: How few old areas of beijing are left.

DSC01283

Something I miss about the country now:

E: The food.

A: I miss everything about it, the food, the people, the places!

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Any (new) words/phrases of the native language I picked up:

G: I learnt some symbols like entrance and exit, but I can’t replicate them on this keyboard!

E: Chu zu che. (Mandarin)

A: Relax, don’t worry-‘Fong sum’, Thank you – ‘umh goi sai’, You’re crazy! –‘Chi-sin’ (Cantonese)

N.B. Standard Chinese, also known as Putonghua, the official language of the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) where it is known as. Mandarin Chinese is the branch of Chinese dialects which includes the dialect of Beijing. The official languages for Macau are Portuguese & Cantonese.

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Strange or memorable experience:

E: being asked to take pictures with Chinese strangers!

Would you go back?

G: Yes, but to different places, not Chongqing! It was too big and claustrophobic.

E: Yes!

A: I will most definitely be going back.

 Picture 19

A misconception people may have of the country:

G: It is so diverse, people think China is all the same, but it really depends on where you go within China.

E: It’s not as chaotic as people may think.

A: Macau isn’t just about gambling; it has a long and rich history. The Portuguese occupied Macau from the mid 1600 until 1999 so there is a heavy European influence and feel to the city. If history interests you, make sure you visit the many museums and exhibitions on going. It is also a very multicultural city, you get all nationalities and religions living together in harmony so you get to experience the best of many cultures!

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:

E: Taxis are cheaper in Beijing, but don’t seem to like to stop for potential customers.

A: Traveling by bus in Macau is next to impossible because the busses are always so full of people. You are better off walking, Macau is a small city anyway.

Picture 163

Do not be afraid to stand your ground in queues, people will try to cut in front of you!

Make sure you don’t just visit the hotels/ casinos or the tourist parts. As tempting as it is, at the end of the day you will miss out on all the culture and history the city has to offer.

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Other advice I would give to those planning a visit:

G: Take lots of hand sanitizer!

E: Fly out with an empty suitcase!

A: If your stay is short don’t worry, you can experience Macau easily as it is a small city. If you plan it right, you might even be able to visit Hong Kong (which is a 1 hour boat ride away) and Zuhai (mainland China). Make sure you get a visa ahead of time if you want to visit Zuhai though as it takes a couple of days to issue. Overall have fun and make sure you visit the Macau tower for the world’s highest bungee jump!

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

Photo by Ana Magarida Morais

If you liked this post, you may also like to read:

Destination: India, Destination: Vietnam, Destination: Bangladesh and Destination: Japan.

Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

 

Destination: Japan

Destination Japan

Map-eating deer, Japanese Green Tea-flavoured everything and being served by giant frogs…

Come visit Japan with us as Josh (J), Kelsey (K) and Rachel (R) share their Japanese adventures with The Asian Destination!

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Places Visited & Duration of Stay:

Keio University (Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org)

J: My stay was a 1 year exchange at Keio University. I lived in Yokohama and kept my visits to Tokyo/Yokohama for monetary reasons. I went to places like Kamakura as well.

K: Japan for 1 year. Tokyo, Miyagi prefecture, Niigata, Nagano.

R: 2 weeks:Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima

Miyagi  (Photo Source: cities.starwoodhotels.com)

Miyagi
(Photo Source: cities.starwoodhotels.com)

Yokohama  (Photo Source: bigskyline.com)

Yokohama
(Photo Source: bigskyline.com)

Favourite Destination:

J: Zusshi which is a seaside town. The beach is more of an inlet and in the past I cycled along that coastal road from there to Enoshima – great views and great atmosphere!

K: Nagano.

R: Kyoto.

Enoshima (Photo Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Enoshima (Photo Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Nagano  (Photo Source: japan-guide.com)

Nagano
(Photo Source: japan-guide.com)

Describe the country in 3 words:
J: Respectful, helpful & beautiful.

K: Wacky, futuristic & tranquil.

R: Best country globally!

Kyoto Gardens (Photo Source: worlfortravel.com)

Kyoto Gardens (Photo Source: worlfortravel.com)

I wasn’t expecting to find…

J: A lot of people attempting to speak English. It shocked me a bit as I was expecting to hear less.

K: I wasn’t expecting to find… how down one road there would be neon lights advertising oxygen bars, and then on the other side of the road there would be a temple. Such a mix of old meets new!

R: Ginger haired groups of fashonistas hanging round at the corner of shops. Dyed ginger hair is a massive phenomenon out there, complete with 3 inch platforms and amazing make-up that looks straight off the catwalk. Also, women walking down the street in traditional Japanese dress – I thought it was more for special occasions!

'Tokyo Fashion Tribe' Photo Source: Guardian.co.uk

‘Tokyo Fashion Tribe’ Photo Source: Guardian.co.uk

My favourite part of the culture was:

J: The inherent politeness that people would have; they’d be willing to walk in the complete opposite direction of their own destination to make sure that I could find the place I was looking for. In some cases I didn’t even need to ask for directions or help – when I looked lost someone would come over! I even got given a cake by an old woman who I gave up my seat for on the train and talked to for her journey!

K: People’s eagerness to help. People would go out of their way to assist you if you were in trouble. For example you ask someone how to get somewhere, they don’t just direct you they’ll take you there personally.

R: How polite they were. The train conductor bows as he enters and exits the carriage. The shop assistants all loudly say arigato gozaimaaas as you leave the shop (even if you don’t buy anything).

The food – mochi (sort of like a donut but the dough is glutinous rice dough and the filling is traditionally red beans/sesame seeds. They do branch out into many many different flavours e.g. coffee, toffee, chocolate & peanut butter!  There was also Matcha flavoured everything (green tea) –  cosmetics, cakes, frappucino, mochi, bread. The restaurants also had plastic representations of the dishes so you would know what you were  getting before you ordered.

Mochi  (Photo Source: cincostyle.wordpress.com)

Mochi
(Photo Source: cincostyle.wordpress.com)

I would describe the people as…

J: Friendly, polite and energetic.

K: helpful and polite with a bit of wackiness thrown in too.

R: Lovely, polite, helpful, charming, generally shorter than me!

Photo Source: tw.visit hokkaido.jp

Photo Source: tw.visit hokkaido.jp

I was surprised by…
J: The absolute efficiency of the Country. I was told that trains ran on time but I never expected it to be to this degree. This efficiency doesn’t just apply to public transport but with everything else. When I was making a bank account, they did it in less than an hour for me and made sure it was done before closing time and worked harder to get it done.

K: I was surprised by… how often people drink. Businessmen often go drinking every day after work with colleagues. To get involved in societies and groups a heavy deal of drinking is also required.

R: How much we loved the food and the amount of food that we had not heard of. Since my trip, Japanese food (other than Sushi) has become much more common over here – in London it is very easy to get a mochi fix . I’m still waiting for Starbucks to produce a matcha frappucino! EAT do a matcha milkshake but it’s not quite the same.

I was also surprised that it was only about 20 degrees at the beginning of September – it’s renowned for being 30+, humid and sweaty.

Photo Source: schwelastboerse.de

Photo Source: schwelastboerse.de

Something I miss about the country now:
J: The food. Without a doubt some of the tastiest stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was no wonder I put on weight (over-eating). Will know to hold back next time! If you’re wondering it was food such as Ramen, Ton-katsu & Gyu-don.

K: The food. If someone could make me traditional ramen soup I would be very happy right now.

R:  I really wish I could wander out to buy some peanut butter mochi and a matcha frappucino with the shop assistants bidding me adieu (well, arigato gozaimas), boarding a train where standard class is better than a British 1st class and the conductor bowing to the carriage. Oh and how well behaved the children were – and so quiet!

Ton-Katsu  (Photo Source: norecipes.com)

Ton-Katsu
(Photo Source: norecipes.com)

Any memorable/funny phrases of the language I picked up:
J:  A simple phrase I already knew before going to Japan, the word ‘Joshikai 女子会’. Means ‘Girls-only gathering‘. A thing where girls get together and drink/eat/do other things. Due to the ‘Joshi’ aspect and its similarity to my name, my American friend and I had a lot of laughs and attempted our own ‘Joshikai’. People did come surprisingly…

K: Wabisabi which means beauty in something traditionally Japanese.

R: arigatoooooo gozaiiiiimaaaaaaaasss; Moshi moshi (Hi)

Photo Source: yourdreamshare.net

Photo Source: yourdreamshare.net

Strange or memorable experience:
J: I went to a bar called ‘Kagaya’ in Tokyo. It’s described as the wackiest bar by most of the foreign bloggers who talk about Japan. This bar only serves one group at a time (for a period of a couple of hours) and the bartender goes all out to entertain by singing or dressing up in giant frog costumes. It was hilarious from start to end.

Kagaya (Photo Source: Squidoo.com)

Kagaya (Photo Source: Squidoo.com)

K: Being asked by people on the street if they can take a photo with you. Often shy in social occasions I was quite surprised that Japanese people would be so confident to take a photo with a complete stranger just because I looked a bit different to them.

R:

Hiroshima – being the only white people visiting the peace park and getting looks from the Japanese and feeling an inner restlessness.

Miyajima – renowned for the amount of deer that just walk about on the streets. We sat down to enjoy our bubble tea and work out where we were on the map. Some deer came and surrounded us and took a bite out of our map…and then another one…and another…. We leapt up and away from the map-consuming deer with the locals laughing at us!

Photo Source: jefferson.blog.br

Photo Source: jefferson.blog.br

A misconception people may have of the country:

J: The biggest is Sushi I’d say. If anything it’s eaten once a month. And it’s the only food people ask me about when I come back home. There appears to be a bit of a lack of knowledge about food in Japan.

K: That everyone eats sushi. There are people in Japan who don’t like raw fish too and there are many different types of food to suit different tastes.

R: Upon mentioning my adoration of Japan, people have commented about Japanese being ‘harsh’ but I experienced completely the opposite.

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
J: I never read the guide books so I’m not sure on this one but one big thing is to mind your manners on public transport  – e.g. keep your phone on silent.

K: Trains can be awfully confusing so make sure you download a underground map before you go and make sure you avoid peak hours so you can dodge being pushed onto a train with the early commuters.

R: The guide books don’t adequately explain just how to use the underground, neither do they prepare you for the culture shock of everything being in symbols, and a foreign language, although it was amazing to experience.

Guide books also don’t tell you that Japanese books are vertical lines of symbols (in contrast to horizontal lines of words). They read these symbols from right to left, but will read the left page before the right, similarly books are shelved left to right. But, if it is written horizontally, it will be read left to right – a useless fact which I find intriguing.

Photo Source: thefourhourworkweek.com

Tokyo Subway (Photo Source: thefourhourworkweek.com)

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to:

J: Make sure you have enough time and money. Research well and look into all your options. That way you can get the most out of your trip. Definitely budget well and look for things that you can get beforehand (there is a train travel pass for those who travel to Japan- you just have to apply online).

K: Make sure you explore the modern and the traditional parts of Japan as they both have their perks.

R: You only need to spend a couple of days in Tokyo. Although there are lots of districts to explore, we actually found it was all quite similar and built up with illuminated buildings – tall modern buildings combined with Piccadilly Circus to the power 4.Instead, explore smaller cities and quieter areas for a ‘true Japan.’ I much preferred Kyoto to Tokyo. (Random fact: Kyo -to is To-kyo in reverse). Get a Japan rail pass (you can do this at the airport when you arrive in Japan).

Would you go back?
J: In a heartbeat.

K: Definitely.

R: Yes! I’ve also been told that the north of Japan is very beautiful and a bit different to southern Japan, so I would like to visit there.

Photo Source: visitjapan.co.uk

Photo Source: visitjapan.co.uk

—-

If you liked this post, you may also like to read:

Destination: IndiaDestination: Vietnam and Destination: Bangladesh.

Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

Destination: Bangladesh

Destination: Bangladesh

‘Be prepared to fall in love with Bangladesh’

Thameenah shares her personal experiences of visiting Bangladesh with The Asian Destination.

Source: bbc.co.uk

Source: bbc.co.uk

Areas visited: Sylhet, Dhaka, Chittagong.

Duration of Stay: I stay there usually around 3-4 weeks with my mum’s side of the family, in a village in Sylhet. Fubari is really picturesque, calm and beautiful.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

What I like about Bangladesh: The beautiful scenery and relaxed rural villages where life is simple. Yet, I love how that contrasts with the busy, hectic hubbub of the towns. It’s just so colourful; people, animals all over the roads with all diff coloured tiny taxis and rickshaws – it’s so alive!

Source: qunar.travel

Source: qunar.travel

Favourite place: The villages, especially a tea farm I went to, years back.

Source: globosapiens.net

Source: globosapiens.net

Bangladesh in 3 words. Vibrant, tranquil and beautiful.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org2

Source: commons.wikimedia.org2

I was surprised by: the amount of people you can fit in a car!

The people are: very curious and inquisitive about us ‘foreigners’

What I miss: Everything – It’s just so different.

A strange experience I encountered:Having to have a shower with a frog in the bathroom!

Source: usaid.gov

Source: usaid.gov

One thing the guide books don’t tell you: They don’t tell you how emotionally attached you’ll become to everyone, even the helpers at home; they don’t tell you how emotional it is to see the poor people and hear their stories.

Any other advice I would give to those thinking about visiting Bangladesh: Be prepared to fall in love with Bangladesh.

Source: pays-mode.fr

Source: pays-mode.fr

Would you go back? Yes

If you liked this post, you may also like to read: Destination: India and Destination: Vietnam.

Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

Destination: Vietnam

Destination: Vietnam  Read all about Luke (L), Oliver (O) and Alex’s (A) Vietnamese adventures, as they share their stories with The Asian Destination. From seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body in Hanoi, tasting snake and scorpion, to helping a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups – they have done it all in Vietnam.

 Areas of the country I visited:

O: -South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon); Nha Trang (beach resort)
-Central Vietnam: Hoi An; Hue and surrounding areas in Thua Thien-Hue Province; Quang Binh Province (including Dong Hoi and Phong Nha Caves); Quang Tri Province (Dong Ha)
-North Vietnam: Hanoi; Ha Long Bay

L: Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hai Van Pass

A: Most parts of Vietnam, from South to North

Photo: Luke Keller

Hue – Photo: Luke Keller

I stayed/travelled around for:

O: 6 weeks (and then for a week almost a year later).

L: 2 months (ish).

A: 6 weeks (twice).

Ho Chi Minh City - Photo: Luke Keller

Ho Chi Minh City – Photo: Luke Keller

Favourite monument/place that I went:

O: Ha Long Bay, but Hue Province had some incredible scenery too. War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh were also very stark and harrowing.

L: Bike trip from Hue over Hai Van Pass to Hoi An.

A: The ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Describe Vietnam in 3 words:

O: Traffic, mountains, busy.

L: Bustling, different, vibrant.

A: Bustling, diverse, and serene.

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I wasn’t expecting to find…

O: Such a variety of food (e.g. dog, cat, snake, scorpion, monkey brain).

L: Oreos.

A: So many friendly people.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

My favourite part of the culture was:

O: The people in central Vietnam (very friendly and helpful); also the rich history of fending off foreign invaders (Chinese, French, Americans, Cambodians).

L: The chaos of the roads!

A: The belief aspect of the culture was very intriguing to me. There is a subtle tone of Buddhism that is noticeable in the daily lifestyle such as ceremonies to honour their ancestors, shrines by every house, and bimonthly moon celebrations on the streets.

Hoi An - Photo: Luke Keller

Hoi An – Photo: Luke Keller

I would describe the people as:

O: Both wily and kind.

L: Proud.

A: Sincere, affable, and welcoming.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

I was surprised by: 

O:
-How disgusting scorpion tasted/how nice snake was.
-The spectacular landscapes (some of the most impressive out of anywhere I went in South East Asia).
-Also how much litter and rubbish there was just dumped in some beautiful parts of countryside – a complete lack of environmental concern!
-How sprawled the cities are, just kind of merging with other towns through vast extensions of shacks and basic accommodation along the roadside; it isn’t clear where one city/town ends and another begins.
-How much poorer people who live on the outskirts are.
-How manic the driving is and how difficult it is to cross the road.

L: The amount of pro-American apparel.

A: How diverse the country can be. The people, the geography, climate, culture and even the language was diverse from the North to the South – even from city to city!

Ha Long Bay - Photo: Luke Keller

Ha Long Bay – Photo: Luke Keller

Something I miss about Vietnam now:

O: The weather, cycling around, the food!

L: The coffee.

A: The amazing iced coffee and coffee bars.

Pho Bo - Photo: Luke Keller

Pho Bo – Photo: Luke Keller

Any words of the native language I picked up:

O: O choi oi (Oh my heavens); o dat qua (too expensive); chi oi! (sister (girl older than you), come here); dep qua (very pretty); com cay qua (not too spicy); ‘mot, hay, ba, yo!’ (one, two, three drink); nam qua (too hot).

L: Too many to name and couldn’t spell them if I tried!!

A: Oi choi oi! (Oh my heavens).

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Strange or memorable experience: 
O:
-Man on motorbike who followed me home when I was cycling asking if he could…’service me’
-Eating dog, scorpion, snake, monkey wine, eel.
-Seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed dead body in Hanoi.
-Incredibly beautiful view on beach at Nha Trang (like tropical paradise stereotype)
-Very long and arduous night buses
-Trying to help a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups (“breathe in your carbon dioxide” I said; he didn’t take my advice)

L: One of the most memorable experiences for me was going with the children to the beach.

A: Drinking snake vodka shots, and monkey wine!

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:

O: Dogs and cats are horrible so try and avoid them; they’re not usually treated like pets in Vietnam.

L: Avoid Ha Noi.

A: Always give money and receive money with both hands.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to Vietnam…
L: If you go to Ha Long Bay, don’t go on a weekend.

A:

-Take things slow and expect travels to take longer than expected.

-If you plan to go for 2 weeks, double it to 4 weeks, if you plan on going to 4 countries consider exploring 2 thoroughly instead. It’s better to spend more time in one place than to rush through and not get a feel for the country/ culture.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Would you go back?

O: Yes, definitely.

L: One way flight booked February 12th !

A: Already have! But maybe again someday.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Luke, Oliver and Alex not only travelled around Vietnam, they were also involved in volunteering for the charity, Hue Help, in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Hue Help focuses on improving the health, resources and future prospects of disadvantaged children in central Vietnam.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

For more Information on Hue Help: www.huehelp.org

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If you liked this post, you may also like to read: Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh.

Destination: India

Visiting family & relatives, trekking expeditions & backpacking…
– Read about 5 different takes on India as The Asian Destination asks 5 different individuals, Sim, Katy, Zara, Lauren and Ashley about their unique Indian adventures.

Places Visited & Duration of Stay:
Sim (S): Punjab and Haryana for 2 weeks over 3 different years.
Katy (K): Travelled around for 1 month visiting: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa.
Lauren (L): Delhi & then I went trekking in the Himalayas for a month.
Zara (Z): Travelled to Leh in the north of India, flew into Delhi. I stayed and travelled around for 1 month.
Ashley (A): Travelled around for 2 months visiting: Delhi, Pushkar, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Goa.

Favourite Destination:
S: The land on our farm.
K: Lotus temple in Delhi, cycling around Benaras University in Varanasi, also boat trips in Varanasi during a puja and on Lake Pichola in Udaipur.
L: EVERYWHERE. Except maybe Delhi – I wasn’t a fan.
Z: Taj Mahal and also the Lotus Temple, shaped like a real lotus in Delhi, was amazing.
A: Favourite monument: Taj Mahal; Favourite Place: Varanasi.

Describe India in 3 words:
K: Noisy, Vibrant, Dreamlike/Hypnotic/Mesmerizing – (the feeling when I would walk around temples/old building/gardens and just feel a bit light-headed).
Z: Colourful, Varied and Spiritual.
A: Overwhelming, Alive and HOT!

I wasn’t expecting to find…
S: McDonalds!
K: Quite so many cows!
L: Such a stark difference between rich and poor. It’s not something you get in England really. Also the difference between the cities and the countryside; the variety of landscapes makes you feel like you’re in more than just one country.
A: People outside fanning cows in 50 degrees!

My favourite part of the culture was:
S: It was relaxed, no clocks in the village.
K: The temples, the food, the colours (of the clothes, especially the lovely scarves!) Also the flowers everywhere.
L: The craziness, you don’t get it anywhere else.
Z: In Leh the people were so spiritual. We visited monks up in the mountains and I cannot believe how peaceful they were and so removed from the chaos of the world – amazing people. Also found the Buddhist religion very interesting to explore and it really opened my eyes to something completely new.
A: I loved the fact that the culture is still very traditional and unique.

I would describe the people as…
S: Interesting drivers!
K: Friendly (or maybe ‘insistent’ in Agra!)
L: Really warm, and willing to help out.
Z: Friendly, curious and generous.
A: Warm, curious and very talkative!

I was surprised by…
S: How you could be in an area of extreme wealth and 30 seconds away, extreme poverty.
K: How kind the people were – we stayed with some distant family friends (I had never met) and they were so generous and welcoming to us. When we later went to Mumbai we were put in touch with some of their family there who then hosted us. This second family weren’t that wealthy, so their kindness to complete strangers was particularly touching.
L: Everything! How hot, dusty, smelly, manic it was. I was warned – I just didn’t believe it!
Z: The fact they eat spicy food for breakfast!

Something I miss about India now:
S: Playing cricket in the village.
K: Frequently being compared to an angel/Bollywood star/’Britney Spears’. The way people often seemed to speak in quotes/catch-phrases and there seemed to be lots of inspirational sayings around.
L: The smell, wierdly. My tent. The people I went with. My trip guides – we made great friends.
Z: The peacefulness of the Himalayas made it feel like a different world.
A: I miss the energy and how noisy and chaotic everything is. And how you never knew what was going to happen each day.

Any words of hindi/other Indian language I picked up:

K: I have now forgotten it all except for my Indian name, Tara Raj !(‘Tara’ meaning Star, ‘Raj’ meaning, Royalty)
L: Challo (Meaning, ‘let’s go!’) was heavily overused during my trip
Z: Namaste (Formal greeting/Hello)

Strange or memorable experience:
S: The trains, on time to the dot, why can’t we have that here?
K: Being told by our first tuk tuk drivers that, “To drive in India you need 3 things: your horn, your brake and your luck”. Encouraging!
L: The road signs along the way – ‘Don’t be a gama in the land of lama’? Whaaaat?! ‘After drinking whisky driving is risky’ – Very helpful stuff…!
Z: Getting abducted in a tuk tuk in Dehli. The driver thought it would be nice to take us to his family’s shop in a back street and tried to make us buy stuff!
A: So many but one that springs to mind is an evening spent driving a tuk-tuk!
(‘tuk tuk’ – also called ‘Autos’ short for Autorickshaws in India)

A misconception people may have of the country:
Z: That all areas are the same. The difference between Leh, up in the mountains and Delhi was unbelievable.

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
K: The staring.
L: The smell, there’s nothing like it. And they don’t tell you about the Indian fondness for horns.
Z: You will never EVER be able to imagine what Delhi is like. I found it very difficult to stay there. It was absolute chaos and the poverty is unimaginable.

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to India:
S: Go by train, you see a lot more.
K:
1. Telling your bank that you are going far away and may use your card still does not guarantee it’ll actually work, so best to take some sterling (more than £10 as it turns out I did).
2. Never go for a room without A/C!
3. Always settle tuk tuk prices in advance even if they misleadingly say you can pay “whatever you like”..this will ultimately not be the case.
4. Take water purification tablets with you.
L:
1. You’re going to get ill. Plan for that.
2. Gaffa tape is essential – you can fix anything with it, including tents.
3. Cake – however good it looks, it may not be!
A:
1. Don’t go in May unless you like being extremely hot!
2. Spend as much time as possible out on the streets talking with the locals and 3. Don’t be put off by long train journeys.. it’s the ultimate Indian experience!

Z:
Take a step back and take advantage of what the country has to offer you. I learnt so much over just a month. You really do take things for granted in the UK. It also teaches you that you don’t have to have money to be happy.

Would you go back?
S: Maybe, to Goa.
K: Definitely, perhaps to different places as the more places we visited and people we met the longer our ‘to visit’ list grew!
L: Yes, definitely.
Z: Yes but I want to explore different areas.
A: In a heartbeat!

If you liked this, you may also like read:

Destination: Bangladesh

Destination: Vietnam

Happy Durga Puja 2012

Happy Kali Puja & Diwali 2012

Celebrate being ‘Unique’

Chai & Chats with Roshni Chugani

A Slice of Asia – Coming Soon!

Thinking of visiting Asia?

The Asian Destination will be sharing some essential travel tips from those that have experienced the culture, food and people first hand.

Stay tuned!