A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: travellen

The End. Or a new beginning?

From Australia to India, a recap of highlights and lowlights

all seasons in one day
View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Home! As they say, there is no place like home. But also, there is nothing like traveling the world and embarking on soo many adventures and having an experience of a lifetime!! It all almost feels like a dream, zip-zapping through country after country over such a short time (yes, I know 6 months may seem like a lot, but to fully explore a country, you really need years!). People always talk about culture shocks when you go abroad, but its actually more of a culture shock coming back home after being abroad for so long! Everything seems soo expensive ("this is a week's food and accomodations in India"), big, and ... organized and quiet.

The end of this trip has come, but I feel it is definitely a new beginning. A new beginning with starting my career, new friendships, new ideas to travel elsewhere (he he), and new insights to myself and the world!

Here's a map of my travels:

Soo, some have asked, and here it is! A grand finale of the bests, worsts, and everything in between of my travels:

The BEST big moments:
-Sydney Opera House
-Great Wall of China; Terracotta Soldiers of Xi'an
-Angkor Wat Temples, Cambodia
-Taj Mahal, India
-The Himalayas of Nepal

The BEST little moments:
-Driving along the windy roads of Queensland, Australia, from the beaches to the rainforst, and coming across everything from tea houses to fruit farms to cool wildlife (cassowary!).
-Pretty much everything about New Zealand, from glaciers to amazing lakes to fjords - its beauty is really breathtaking!

-Riding bikes around Bejing. Lounging around in Wudang Shan waiting for the rain to stop and playing cards and watching a repeat 80's Arnold Schwarzeneggar movie, Commando (which, oddly enough, I had come across several more times while traveling). Then, when the rain finally temporarily stopped, we jumped out and went for a walk and came across this beautiful ancient temple hiding in the midst (Dragon Cloud Temple) in the forest. I really thought, "this is China."
-Walking around the busy and lit-up streets of Hong Kong and catching the daily night light show at night
-Lounging around and being lazy in Laos, watching repeat Friends episodes and drinking Lao Beer.
-Getting that one day of sunshine in Vietnam and sunbatheing on the rooftop of our hotel.
-Having one amazing day after the other exploring the Angkor Wat temples. Started off with probably the best breakfest I've ever had to a full day of amazing sight-seeing to watching spectacular sunsets from the temples to finishing the day with delicious Cambodian food. Perfect!
-Beach hopping in Thailand and the big event of the day is deciding what kind of massage to get or to get a pineapple or banana shake. What can beat that?
-Sleeping with all our clothes in Nepal it was so cold and hiking to see an amazing sunset and sunrise overlooking the great Himalayan range.
-Going from being fearful and overwhelmed about India to loving the chaotism! DSC01129.jpg
Also, seeing Bollywood movies in India is quite an experience!
-Enjoying the simple life and people of Sri Lanka. Going from the tea plantation to the hill country to the beach. Met great people, westeners and locals alike!
-The art of bargaining in each country. This is something that always takes a little time to figure out, yet its fun (although definitely tiring). In China you had to go down by at least 70-80% and then settle at something like 60-70%. Vietnam was a lot of fake acting (a loud gasp... you look like someone just told you that you lost a million dollars, they equally look as shocked... you feel like you are riping their hearts out and will send them to immediate poverty... yet you know they are overcharging you by at least 50%.... it goes on and on). In India you have to be quick-witted and really on your toes because the process goes by quickly and before you know it you "settle" and then almost immediately afterwards you realize "d'oh! I could have gone lower." Sri Lanka they do this "how much do YOU think its worth?" Uhhh.... what?

BEST food, in general:
-Indian! From the masalas to the paneers to the dosas, great variety!
-Thailand. Enough said. Mmmm.....
-Cambodian. Are there any Cambodian restaurants in Chicago? It was nice to try something new and different, and the Khmer amok's and curries were to die for!
-Chinese. When we could actually communicate what we wanted, it was awesome! A fave being a chicken peanut dish.

Which leads to....
Best local/traditional foods
-Egg tarts, Macau. This yummy egg custurd in a pastery shell. Soo fattening, but soo good!
-Sticky rice and curries, Laos
-Pho (noodle soup) and Naem Nuang of Vietnam. With Naem Nuang you make your own spring roll with this transparent rice paper and add think noodles, herbs, veggies, sauces, its delicious!
-Khmer curry, Cambodia. If you like coconut, you'll like most dishes in Cambodia. It has a nice influence of Thai food.
-Pad thai, green curry, massaman curry, tom yam soup - Thailand
-Momos in Nepal. Momos are kinda like pot stickers, with a little kick!
-Umm... everything vegetarian in India! Chana masala, dahls, nan, dosas, thali's, I could go on and on! And nothing like the masala teas, yummy!
-Rice hoppers, curd and honey, and wattalapan (steamed pudding with coconut milk, eggs, and jaggery) - Sri Lanka

BEST sunsets (a toughie!)
-Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng Temple, Cambodia. We underestimated the time to get to this particular temple, and so the sun was already beginning to set. We get there and it starts drizzling and as the temple happens to be perched on a hill in a foreste, we started running... and running (all right, we were a little out of shape at this point. I would say jogging more like it!), through the trees so it seemed that the sun was already set. So we thought we missed it but finally get to the top, huffing and puffing, at the most perfect time and just like that, the rain stopped and we were greeted with this spectacular sunset. It was almost surreal, especially rewarding after the battle to get there!
-Greymouth, NZ. We were returning from seeing awesome rocks and blow holes (that weren't blowing, by the way), and the sun over the sea was just setting to this amazing array of coloful orange colors! The driver/guide was racing to get the car back on time, but seeing how obsessed I was with trying to get a good picture while also trying to stay in my seat, kindly pulled over and we got some nice photo opps. THEN, he was soooooooooo sooooooooo nice and said "fine, let the car be late" and we raced to this peer to see the sun set just over the horizon. Sooo amazing and worth it! And these kiwis, soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo nice!!! By the way, NZ is appropriately called the Land of the White Cloud.
-Nagarkot, Nepal. What can beat seeing a sunrise and sunset overlooking the Himalayas?!
-Tangalla, Sri Lanka. Sitting on the beach. Sipping a cold Lion Lager. Enjoying the beach life. The sky turned every color possibly, but had these cool streaks of orange and blue. Beautiful.

My Most Favorite "Friends"
-Leeches in Sri Lanka. Lets just say feeling a cold slithery thing on your foot isn't the best. Luckily, twice, I got 'em (after shrieking like a baby) before it crawled up my leg to suck my blood. Ew!
-Cockroaches in China. One night I got up to go to the toilet in Hong Kong, and being that our room was 2X2ft and would wake up Char and Lauren, I didn't turn on the light. Next thing I know I hear a loud "crrrruuunnccchh" under my foot. THANK GAAWWWDDD I was wearing flip flops!
-Ants, centipedes, and beetles in Thailand. At one particular dumpy place in Koh Phangan, there were ants all around the walls literally over and all around my head. I moved the bed away, as well as myself, but of course they were still getting on the bed and I couldn't sleep because of the paranoia of feeling ants on me. Then even had all these strange dreams about ants being dinausar size and coming to get me. Weird, I know! Then this centipede that kept on finding its place in our room in Koh Phi Phi. Maybe we unintentionally made a nest for it?
-The cows roaming the streets in India. Watch your feet for stepping on dung!
-Started in Nepal, then India, and finally in Sri Lanka, I think I kind of developed a fear of monkeys! They are much more aggressive and creepy then the cutsie Curious George monkey that we know!


BEST Most-Anti-Climatic Moments:
-Wudang Shan, China. Climbing endless stairs in the rain, to more rain and more cold. We finally get on top after 3 hours of climbing, and there was absolutely NO visibility whatsoever. Zilch. I got on top, and with the more intense rain, cold, and wind, hardly even took the last step when I shouted to no one in particular (because you could hardly see anyone in front of you), "Thats it! I'm going down!"
-Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka. Yet another stair climb that this time began at 3:00AM, a 5,200 step climb to "spectacular sunset views" and "amazing shadow of this mountain over another one." Granted it was warmer, but of course when we got on top we were greeted with being literally inside a rain cloud. At least we got some nice views on the way down!
-Fraser Island, Australia. Fraser Island is this cool island that is made of sand and has more sand than the Sahara dessert!
It was only anti-climatic because it literally rained all 2 days of this safari and we couldn't do some stuff. It was still amazing, but if I had to hear one more time, "well, normally if it weren't raining you would see this and that....". We did see a dingo though and the group was nice! And this cool colored sand hill.
-Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand. Deciding to do a full-day climb up a glacier because of the more spectacular views, Lauren and I geared up and set off. No surprise as it has been raining before, that it only picked up while we were hiking. We were SOAKING to the bone wet, and as luck would have it, the 1/2 way, 1/2 day point was no different than being near the top. It actually rained non-stop all 3 days we were there. Bummer. It was still amazing though, even squeezing through these narrow passages:
Still managed a smile at the top!
-Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka. Hmm... can you guess? A hike up a hill to.... no visibility and rain! Do you see a theme here? :)

BEST Beaches
-Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, this beach is truly beautiful with the soft white fine sand and the water so clear and blue.
-Whitsunday Islands, Aerlie Beach, Australia. Can I say paradise? Actually rated as one of the top 3 beaches in the world, it was almost a dream. Saw a dolphin swimming along, the sand uber fine and white, and the water was the clearest aqua color ever.
-Leela Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand. We stayed at a great hotel here and had this nice beach to look at!
-Tangalle, Sri Lanka. This is more so because of the atmosphere. It is sooo soo quiet and peaceful there. You could literally be the only one on the beach steps away from your hotel, paying a measely $5. Nice!
-Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia. A nice long stretch of beach where you can hang out at a nice beachside cafe and watch the surfers have fun!
-Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Similar as Bondi with it being a surfers beach, but much more quiet and peaceful. Beautiful sunsets!
-Goa, Palolem Beach, India. Its lively, yet relaxing!

Biggest Risks
-Being in a country with an escalating civil war - Sri Lanka. The military look like they are 13 years old and wander around carrying these machine guns with their finger on the trigger. Don't make any sudden movements!
-Bungee jumping! Not only once, but twice! 1st was the infamous Nevis Bungee jump off a highwire, 134 m (440ft).
Ln.jpg. An awesome exhilarating experience.
2nd was in Macau off a tower, 233m (764 ft).
Almost was a 3rd time in Nepal, but I got worried I was becoming a bungy junkie. :-)
-Eating dog in China. Yes, dog.
When in China, do as the Chinese do? It was cross-section slices and served cold. A bit savory, but.... dog!That, and there were many times that, for lack of communication, we literally had to point to something and hope for the best. Or do an impression of a chicken with our arms and make sure to show that we wanted just chicken, NOT chicken feet. Who knows what we ate (I try not to think about it) most of the time! I'm still curious what we ate in Chongqing when we had a hot-pot (which originated as stewed intestines) and Lauren picked something that looked edible enough. It was either that or sheep's brains.
-The cave in Van Vieng, Laos, that we not only had to wade through dark murky water, but also had to walk on a slippery wall with jagged edges... with flip-flops... in the dark. I don't count the tiny candles we had "to see." I almost felt lucky that afterwards I got this mysterious foot pain for 24 hours that went from hot and burning to sharp pain from left to right.

The BEST Nice hotels/guesthouses... and then the WORST:
Niiiiice... for the luxury:

  1. 1. CoCo Hut, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Absolutely worth the mega upgrade we gave ourselves to pay for it (about a week's worth of accomodation for one night, but we needed it after almost a couple of weeks worth of horrible accomodations). A shower that you didn't need to sit on the toilet, tiled floors you could walk barefoot on, a soft bed and pillows, A/C, a TV and even a computer in our room, a balcony overlooking the sea, and great customer service with SUPER friendly reception/staff that you could literally snap your fingers and someone would be there to help you. The great beach and the great massage... it was hard to leave!

-Ban's Diving Resort in Kao Tao, Thailand: A nice clean bungalow perched on a hill, a bedroom and living room, TV with DVD, great views from balcony - great for lounging and relaxing.
-Hotel Guia, Macau - another upgrade for us to enjoy comfortable beds, clean rooms, a nice view of the city.

Niiiiiice... for the atmosphere or other:
-Bush Gardens, Aerlie Beach, Australia - fun hostel and I became BFF with the fun staff there.
-Xi'an's Shiyuan's Hostel, China - a great hostel atmosphere with things like dumpling parties and other communal activities. It had a nice loungy and homey common area to eat, drink, and meet people.
-Kingfisher, Tangalle, Sri Lanka - When its just you and a few other people as guests, you definitely get VIP treatment! I.e. having a coconut drink fresh from the tree delivered to you as you sunbathe on practically a private beach to yourself, steps away from the beach for $5, by the way. Great people and friends there.
-Goverdhan Tourist Complex in Fatehpur Sikr, India. The staff was soooo polite and nice that you almost felt like hugging them and telling them its okay when they "disturbed" you to ask you a simple question. Soo nice!

The Not-so-nice, worst accomodations (and actually, there was so many, this was more of a tough decision! haha!)
-Leela Beach Hotel, Koh Phangan, Thailand - refer to ant story in "my favorite friends" above. That and the "bathroom" was practically outside, there was no sink, and you could share shampoo with the neighbor next door as well as join their conversation the walls were so thin.
-Hotel Namaskar (Main Bazaar), Delhi, India. For some odd reason, I ended up staying there a 2nd time and for some reason the dumpy room didn't bother me as much. But the public urinals and small ally to get there did, as well as the garbage and cow manuer you constantly had to avoid stepping on. Can't decide what was worse, the smell or the filth? Hmm....
-Green House, Dalhousie (Adam's Peak), Sri Lanka. I really don't think they ever changed the sheets. Or ever cleaned anything, for that matter. Gross.
-P.P. Long Beach Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. It was dark and really mildewy. And everytime it rained we got water in the room and random bugs. Oh, and then ants invaded our precious jar of (expensive) nutella and we had to through it out. Hmph. NOT happy about that.

Best Starry Night
-Himalayas, Nagarkot, Nepal
-Makarora, New Zealand
-Tengalle and Mirissa, Sri Lanka

BEST massages
-CoCo Hut, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Thai massage by the beach as the sun was setting. Got cracked and stretched and maneuvered in ways I didn't think my body could move. Hurt, but felt great afterwards.
-Bangkok, Thailand. Another good Thai massage.
-Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. A nice sunset cocunut oil massage on a beautiful beach. Almost could fall asleep except for the that mosquito that was eating my arm.
(by the way, any massage in Thailand is about $5-$7).
-Luang Prabang, Laos. After a couple of months backpacking and traveling, this was our first "we deserve a little luxury" massage. It had an awesome ambiance and I finally got that big knot on my left trap to go away.
.... and the weirdest:
-Ayurvedic massages, Mombay and Goa. In Mombay it was at a stinky gym, umm... a lot of rubbing with vegetable oil (seriously), more rubbing, and lets just say I almost felt violated. Then in Goa, once again, one really shouldn't have qualms about their body because it was borderline inappropriate. So when I got to Sri Lanka and was asked if I wanted an ayurvedic massage, I quickly answered, "no thanks!"

  • By the way, all of these massages were around $5-$8

BEST Activities
-Doing a live-abroad scuba diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Awesome!
-Skiing in New Zealand (Mount Cardrona);
Tranzalpine Express from Christchurch to Greymouth - stunningly beautiful.
Admiring the beauty of the country:
-Kayaking in Laos and then stopping for Lao Beer.
-Boat ride on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
-Trekking in Nepal (it was a short but good one!)
-A 10-day Vipassana meditation course in India. Probably the hardest thing both mentally and physically (yes, even over marathons and triathlons!) I've ever done. Intense, but sooo worth it!
-Hiking the beautiful hill country in Sri Lanka

If I were to go back anywhere of all those countries, where would be my top picks?

  • Not in any particular order* :)

-India - Its so big and there is sooo sooo much to see. From the north to the south, from the east to west, each state is so different than the next - language, culture, food.
-Australia/NZ - Amazing amazing countries! Sooo beautiful and again, so much to see and do. Perfect for anyone that is active and that likes to do things amongst stunning nature.
-Nepal - we got a taste of it, but I would loooooooooooooooove one day to come back and do a 7-10+ day trek. Anyone interested?

Best comfort foods
-Nutella, peanut butter, Hawaiian pizza, ginger cookies

Couldn't have lived without...
-Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, my cocoon sleeper sheet with pillowcase, fabreeze, a lightweight rain jacket (sooo came in handy), sleeping pills (am I addicted now?), ipod, shower flip flops, suduku and books (for swaps) for entertainment, chain and locks, comfortable walking shoes

Wish I had...
-Better earphones! I went through 3 pairs! More fabreeze, more toothbrush covers, and more $$ so that I could have traveled longer, ha ha.

Travel reads
Eat, Prey, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert); Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini); Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides); Girl from the Picture (Denise Chong); Honeymoon with my Brother (Franz Wisner); 2X John Grishman books and 1X Mary Higgins Clark book for easy beach reads; Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner); The Village in the Jungle (Leonard Woolf and Nick Smith)

Any regrets?
NO WAY! I don't regret not a single thing. Yes, there are things I would have done differently, but thats what makes the experience what it is. Even the "bad" moments weren't that bad and were quickly followed by something good or you appreciate the next thing more.

What I learned from traveling
-Do it! Instead of saying, "I wish I can... I want to..." DO IT! Obligations and responsibilities will always be there, but life passes by quicker than you think and traveling is such a rewarding and humbling experience. By the time you really "have time to go," it may be too late. Pictures are pictures and words are words, but seeing something with your own eyes is something else. When I first saw the great Himalayan range, I got goosebumps and was just in awe. I really wanted to transport everyone I know to see it with their own eyes. Amazing.
-Planning and too much of it often leads to disappointment. This trip, more than any other one I've taken, really was "go with the flow." Changed plans daily, got ideas from other people, and it worked out great!
-I feel soooo much more appreciative of what I have and who I have in my life. We all take soo much for granted and its not until you see the poverty or how little people have, and yet are still happy, that you realize that!
-Patience. Its something that I admit to lacking sometimes, but you learn to gain it. Like in Sri Lanka you literally have to wait at least one hour to get your food. But whats the hurry? In Laos everything just moves at a slow pace and takes forever. Again, will there really be that much of a difference in your life by waiting an extra 10-15 minutes? It'll happen when it happens. And with bargaining in all of Asia, if you rush, you lose. With that, the longer I spent 'on-the-go' the less I felt I stressed about silly stuff (things being late, etc). Definitely good to be easy-going and have an open mind, and traveling helps with that, for sure!
-Its okay to splurge every now and then. Backpacking is hard work and so is traveling. Having little rewards for yourself every now and then, whether it be a nicer room or a more expensive dinner, is needed and totally worth it!
-Poverty doesn't necessarily have to mean unhappiness. I saw soo many kids that literally have nothing, yet smile and laugh and play for hours over something as simple as a little rubber tire with a rope. Which leads to my every-growing observation that kids in 3rd world countries really are soo much more behaved! They may not know what is all out there, but they are at least happy with what they have!
-I guess its the society we live in, but routines can be boring! I learned to like waking up and each day being so so different than the day before, and each day being a new adventure.
-Per Vipassana, attachment leads to cravings which lead to misery. Simple, yet so so true.
-The more I travel, the more I want to travel and see more! Got great new ideas from fellow travelers that I met. So those of you that are still traveling, keep me udpated!
-What comes around goes around. Ahhh... good 'ol karma.

Welp folks, its been fun! Sooo many memories, good fun, and an experience of a lifetime. Thanks for allowing me to share all my memories and experiences with you! And thanks to the ever loyal readers! I appreciate it!

See you out there!


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

Posted by travellen 15:29 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Its a simple life

Sri Lanka

sunny 104 °F
View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

If I were to describe Sri Lanka in one word, I would say "simple." Everything about it is just that, from the people to the lifestyles. With that being said, it was easy to change my 2-week trip here to 3-weeks, and now 4-weeks (that, and it took less than 5 minutes by phone and NO extra charges to change. So why not?). So here I am enjoying the simple life before my return to Delhi, India (talk about a change of pace that will be!) and then Chicago next week.

Last I left off, I was in Tangalle REALLY enjoying the simple life. Here, life consists of afternoon cricket games,


The man on a bike with small treats (which, by the way, is the view from the guesthouse/restaurant. Nice huh?),


and of course, what makes it the most special, the company!

Great friend who spends months here at a time and has made Tangalle his "1st 2nd home." He came here pre-tsunami and came back afterwards to altruistically and generously sponsor a local family to help rebuild their guesthouse and also helps another guesthouse. The world needs more people like him!

Local friends who are super nice.

One night we somehow randomly started a party and ended the night all drunk off rum and cokes. Fun!

Great fresh fish dinner with good company!

And for those of you who are sick of my sunset pictures, sorry! I'm on the beach and that is usually a highlight. This one in particular was especially spectacular. Check out the amazing colors:



It would have been easy to stay here forever, but I felt it was time to move on and next settled in Unawatuna, a beach town which unfortunately was hit pretty bad by the tsunami and the "beach" was literally about 2 feet wide. It was still pretty though...


especially having dinner practically in the water.

And once again, met these super nice Russians and we had great conversations about travel and the motherland!

Fortunately for travel, Galle happens to be a hop and a skip away from Unawatuna. Everyone talks about Galle being this big "literary capital" full of snooty people talking about all sorts of literature, but aside from that, it is really a time capsule to the Dutch colonial area, dating all the way back to the 1600's. Its not just a fort, it also has churches, mosques, temples, and even a community inside it. Although the fort itself withstood the tsunami, a lot of things were destroyed within it. However, restoration is slowly but surely getting done, and walking around the walls of the fort is really lovely with some great views...



How badly I wanted to jump in the water while sizzling in 100+ degrees!

Dutch Reformed Church

Next stop was Hikkaduwa, what is known as "surfer's paradise" and is a fun beach town with plenty of water sports. It is more lively then some other low-key places, which is a nice change of pace. And once again, beautiful views:



One day I was walking on the beach to go do a shipwreck scuba dive, which was REALLY cool, by the way, and came across this big o' turtle in the wild! It was soo cool! Someone was feeding it, and it was just soo cool being so close to it and petting it and feeding it! It was so cute!


A Canadian I met called me crazy, but being that I had an extra week to spare, I thought I would do at least something of the cultural triangle that Sri Lanka is known for. So I spent a day to travel to see Sigiriya and Dambulla, and then a day to get back. It was well worth it though!

Sigiriya, also known as either "Remembrance Rock" or "Lion's Rock," is this impressive rock that was formed by an extinct volcano and has numerous natural cave shelters and rock overhangs. A popular myth, which I understand many people still believe, is that it became a residence, both royal and military, of King Kassapa in the 5th century after he overthrew and murdered his father to come to power (hmph). But what the facts say is that it wasn't a fortress or palace, but a Buddhist monastary that was built way before King Kassapa came into the picture. Sounds like this King Kassapa has a little power problem. Anyway, it was abandoned after that 14th century and was discovered in the late 1800's. I'm glad it was because it is truely amazing! From the water gardens to the boulder gardens to the summit terraced gardens, everywhere you look, there is something amazing:

Here the entrance is beautiful and symmetrical water gardens and the view of the rock, which of course I climbed!

The boulder gardens that jut out to form other walls and columns, like the audience hall:



Sigiriya is most famous for these images of frescoes, or these images of woman figures that are well-preserved. Whatever theory you believe, the myth or the modern theory, the myth is that the women are King Kassapa's concubines or celestial nymphs. The modern theory is that the women represent aspects of Tara Devi, a divine being who helps the human reach enlightenment. Either way, it is amazingly intact with beautiful colors and design:



Just when you think you've seen it all, you come across the lion's paws, 5th century. THe lion symbolism is believed to be a reminder to devotees that Buddha was Sakya Simha, or Lion of the Sakya Clan, which means that the truths he spoke of were as powerful as the sound of a lion's roar. The staircase leads to the summit of the rock.


Me on the summit. The summit is about 1.6 hecters and is said to be a place of residence. There is even a pool (that would have been nice, huh? Too bad its all gross and murky). There are some spots that is thought to be for meditation, a throne, and ruins of dagoda's.

View from top. I don't know if you can see it, but at the top of the photo there is this gigantic buddha statue, I swear, it towers in the sky!

After Sigiriya, and really, what can top that? I went to Dambulla, known for its cave temples. The entrance is this giant golden buddha,


and from there a small hike on top of a hill to the cave temples. Yes, another climb in the blazing sun and soaring heat:


The caves' history of worship dates all the way back to the 1st century when there was yet another incidence of a king overthrowing another king, and this king took refuge in these caves and then built these amazing rock temples. There are 5 caves, and the 1st one, the temple of the King, has the impressive 15m reclining buddha:


Then the others have everything from wooden statues to of course buddhas statues, and more!


Looks peaceful, huh? Hmmm... would have been nice to take a little siesta!

So, like I said, I saw .2 of the Cultural Triangle, but I have to save something for the next time I come, right?

After a long journey back to the beach, I did a stop-over in Hikkaduwa again to watch some more surfer's action, and then headed to Mirissa, a beautiful, peaceful, and quiet beach with clear waters and nice relaxed atmosphere. I decided since my trip is coming to an end soon, might as well upgrade a little to a whopping $20USD for my own private bungalow,


A nice pool, DSC01018.jpg

and dinner and breakfest included. Nice!

And now I made it back to Tangalle to fully detox and rest for a few days before I make my loooong journey back home! This has been my life,


Talk about fresh cocunut from a tree!

This is the life!

Stay tuned for my highlights and best/worsts of my almost 6-month journey! Woo hoo!!

Posted by travellen 04:18 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

A 360 of travel adventures...

Sri Lanka

all seasons in one day 95 °F
View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Hello! Well, first off, just want to say that I am alive and safe. In case you are sratching your head at this comment, there have been a couple of bombs/terror attacks eerily close to where I have been, but lucky enough, far enough away. Its probably not making international news, but just in case it does, I'm fine! One was in Colombo a day or so after I left, and the other just at the next town over (which happens to be 40 miles away)... it was a bomb on a bus and 50+ people were killed :( Its sad and its kinda... well, its kinda eerie at times to be in a country where there are escalating terror attacks. But I'm in the south now, away from the north and east madness.

Soo.... Sri Lanka. I never thought that the finale of my travel adventures would encompass all my travels thus far. Sri Lanka reminds me of my first destination on this trip, Australia and New Zealand for its amazing scenery and beautiful nature:


Nepal for its panorama views and patient people. China for this Wudang Shan stair hike we did, which entailed climbing like 20394823049832 stairs in the misty rain.

Where's the top? No seriously!

Here in Sri Lanka there was another stair hike, Adam's Peak, 5,200 stairs, I did and of course it was misty and rainy at the top (not nearly as bad as Wudang!) with .... no "perfect sunrise" view or "great shadow of the mountain!"

Nice view, huh?

Oh well. Vietnam for the tempermental weather - rainy, its sunny, its cool, its hot, its HUMID (seriously, can be 90%+ humid). Then Laos, once again for the subtle scenery but also for the laid back and chill lifestyle people seem to have, and the "sleepy" towns, aka. Ella.


Really, thats the town.

Cambodia because I went to this TOTALLY cheesy touristy 'cultural' show


that we stumbled upon there, and now here, and also for some temples (which of course don't compare). Thailand for the beaches, but I would say the beaches are more of a combo of India and Thailand, but with a LOT fewer people. Example, here is my panoramic view of Tangalla beach:




Seriously, I am the only one on the beach. Crazy! And my guesthouse is a good 15 feet from the beach, and I'm paying less than $5. And finally, India, obviously because of the proximity and the similar food and characteristics (BUT Sri Lanka is 10X cleaner and the people are much more honest). So yes, its lovely and I already postponed my time here!

I started off in the hill country, known for its lovely views and awesome hikes/walks. After a brief stop in Colombo (thats all it needs!), I was off to Kandy where I went to the lovely botantical gardens


and then this elephant orphange. So cute! I watched them bathe, get fed, and have fun!


A nice family pict, huh?

An amputee elephant!

A 7-DAY old elephant with mom

Bottle feeling elephant!

And finally, because it was soo beautiful, a rainbow at the elephant orphanage:


Then to the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic


where supposedly, there is a tooth of a buddha. The tooth has a super long history that dates back to 310 BC and it had to go through extreme measures to be 'protected' (was bounced around Sri Lanka for awhile) and even survived a terrorist attack a few years back. Interesting. From Kandy I went to Adam's Peak, for the infamous 2:30 am (yes am!) wake up call to begin a 3 1/2 hour stair climb of 5,200 stairs. It was really hard, but still serene. Its a famous pilgrimage site for hindus, muslims, christians alike because on top of the peak there is a famous footprint (which of course was covered). The Buddhists say its of the buddha, the Indians say its of Lord Shiva, and others say its the footprint of Adam when he first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven. Here are some monks doing their pilgrimage (they were resting, like we were frequently doing!):


Either way, this Sacred Footprint, was quite a hike! As I mentioned earlier, the peak was in a rain cloud, so we couldn't really see any of the supposed nice views and/or sunrise. Oh well...


This is what we climbed up!


BUt on the way down, we saw spectacular views of the hills. I guess we missed a lot climbing in the dark!



From Adam's Peak, we (I met another North American and we traveled several days together) went to Haputale for some more beautiful hikes and a nice visit to the tea plantations. Sri Lanka is most famous for its tea, so a visit to learn about the process of going from wet tea leaves to drying them to crushing, grinding, fermenting was pretty cool. Funny thing was that they didn't offer tea at the end of the tour nor did they sell any tea. Then they said that they export all the good tea, and the tea we drink in Sri Lanka is the "low-quality" tea. Gee, thanks.

The tea plantation

The tea leaf pickers all women by the way who were required to pick at least 10kg of tea a day for a whopping $2.50. No joke. BUT they were alll soooo funny and had such lovely toothy (or toothless smiles). They were harassing us to take pictures of them, and then were laughing at each other when viewing them. So cute!




So since we were in an "active" mindset, we decided to do a nice hike up to Lipton Seat, where Sir Lipton himself liked to come and enjoy the views. Once again, luck would have it that as we were climbing up, we were going deep into a rain cloud. But here is me on top, and then the .2 minutes when it cleared:



Then a brief stop in Bandarwela, and finally to Ella, a beautiful "sleepy" town where we stayed at this super nice guesthouse, met some nice people, had some excellent food, and just relaxed in the hill country. This is what Sri Lanka is about, its a country with lots to see and do, lots of smiles (really, people just randomly say Hello to you!) but also has a relaxed atmosphere about it.

Nice view of tea plantation.

Yet another great smile!

Rawana Waterfall

A random cute preschool we came across on our way to Ella's rock:

And the beautiful Ella's rock, talk about great panoramic view! Very peaceful! We chilled out there for awhile and just enjoyed the view:



Well, its all fun and games until you get onto the train/buses. What an experience that is! The trains/buses in Sri Lanka... hmm.... how to describe it? They are just crazy! The trains are ancient looking and have these big open windows so that when the train barely slows down to the stop, people are throwing their kids through the window (seriously, no joke!) to reserve a spot and/or jumping on (mind you, the train is still moving). There are no assigned seats, so you just pack in with everyone else. Its hilarious and I love it! If I went back in time, like 100 years, this is what it would be like. I actually prefered to be in the 2nd and 3rd class because of the experience. People playing music, the food vendors, the people curiously observing you and trying to make conversation without knowing anything other than "where you from?" The buses are even funnier because its even MORE cramped (which is hard to imagine). So as with the train, everyone just piles on, but with the buses, anyone that has anything in their hands and has to stand, just throws there bags and kids for that matter, on other people's laps, and ... thats just the way it is! No questions asked! And then you get the random person that drools on you (my friend), or on top of your leg (me), and a random package on your lap (me again). Its sooooo funny!

However, you do get nice views...



ANd more often than not, the 'route' to go somewhere is literally on the train tracks. Luckily, the trains are ancient and move super slowly so you can definitely hear one coming. You just have to jump out of the way in plenty of time to spare:


He threw a flower at me, which was cute!

Here's us and people taking a nice stroll on the traintracks...



After the hill country, I decided to venture out to Yala National Park, which is known for its wildlife and leopard spotting. It has the world's highest leopard population. Its also kind of east, so it actually had a major terror attack a few months back and just opened after the New Year. Having never done a safari, I thought, why not? It ended up being pretty cool, 4WD and all, but I didn't see any leopards. Elephants, but after the elephant orphanage, it wasn't that exciting, deer (which we have in Illinois), peacocks, birds, and some other neat stuff. Definitely mega $$ because it was just me, but what can you do? At least I can say I was on a safari! Besides the not-so-exciting wildlife spotting, the 125,000ish hecteres are full with nice lagoons, plains, and scrubs. Definitely looked very safari like:


See the Elephant rock? Eh? EH?

Kinda random, but here you are searching for... animals and wildlife, and then you get these random scary looking military guys wandering about.

The park, as with many other places in Sri Lanka, was also affected by the tsunami. Its estimated that 35,000+ people died in Sri Lanka due to the tsunami. And thats not even counting some areas. Where I am now, the south beaches, you can definitely see the destruction and bareness, and even more harrowing is people's personal stories :(

By the way, a local common food is rice bowl hoppers that you eat with chutney... super yummy, and of course now while I'm on the sea, fresh seafood (the pict is of calamari) which they get fresh and is a whopping $2-$3. Its delish!



Welp, thats about it for now! Next update will be exciting news of my beach hopping! haha!

Posted by travellen 21:36 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Happy New Year from India!

Goa and Kochi, Kerala

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Happy New Year!

Wishing you all the best for 2008!

We made it to Goa safe and sound and spent 3 hard, excruciating days laying on the beach


and sunbathing for a good 5-7 hours. Don't worry, it was not all just fun and games. We also had a strict schedule of when to flip over and when to get a nice cold drink. Ha aha! Then New Years day (have to start the New Years, right?) we decided to get an ayurvedic massage for all our hard work. It was an hour and half, about $12, with a deep tissue massage with soothing oils. Who would know that I was really tight in some areas (my calves) from not doing anything all day?

Goa, or as many people call it, is "not really India." Its FULL of Westerners and tourism and is known for its party scene and beaches. The beach we were at, Palolem, supposedly the nicest in Goa, was no Thailand, but pretty nice. It has the usual beach vendors selling everything from shawls to CD's and the random people that would just stand there and gawk at you - but hey, thats India! It adds character to the beach scene. We thought to come here, the party center of India, to celebrate New Years. We ended up at Dancing Shiva's and after a few drinks realized it was getting closed to midnight. We didn't notice much of a change (people looking at their watches, music stopping, etc) and decided to follow some people heading to the beach (the bar we were at was a little off). There were fireworks all along the beach,


which was nice. Then I looked at my watch. 12:00. Then 12:01. Then 12:02. Where is the countdown? Realizing that there probably wasn't going to be one and realizing that I have to have a countdown, Char and I did our own, which was a little anti-climatic, but whatever. Then we went back to the bar for some more drinks and chit-chat with some people we met, and well, when I started falling asleep while talking to someone, it was time to go, ha ha! And sorry to say, thats not the 1st time that has happened! Oops! But yes, it was really fun. So all we saw in Goa was Palolem beach and Palolem town, which had some really nice shops. It was funny, just past the cute beach bungalows by the beach, one commonly sees pigs and cows milling about, and well, sometimes the cows are the ones that you have to get around to get that seat you want!


But a beach is a beach, and it was super relaxing. I plowed through 2 books, which was good!

Here is a pict of our place, with the cute x-mas decorations:


And of course, sunset in Goa:


Have I mentioned how great the food is?!?! Ohh myyyy gawd! Goa is especially known for its delicious seafood, and I can't agree more. Yummmmy! Besides the awesome variety of vegetarian food, they also have Indian-Chinese food, which sounds funny, but I like better than real Chinese food. Its less oily with a little spice. But here in Goa, you actually chose the fish you want to eat (me, knowing nothing about 'proper fish selection' pretty much just chose the smallest, because it would be cheaper). Its all fresh and amazing!


Then.... sniff sniff, Char left to go back to Chicago... :( Here is a pict of our last dinner (I have to kindly draw attention to our nice tans, ha ha!):


At first, it was very very weird. Literally, for the last 4 months, starting with Lauren, then Lauren and Char, then Char, we practically spend every minute together. So as Char pulled out of the driveway and the super nice reception all waved her off, I first thought, "now what? What do to? Its just me now." Well, one of the first thing you realize traveling by yourself is that it gets SUPER expensive. You're not sharing and splitting costs. The 2nd thing is you don't have someone to talk to about stupid things that we always got a laugh at (BM's). BUT, what I soon realized is that its kinda easier to meet people? I don't know if it was me being alone and wanting to talk that I'm more direct, or other people feeling sorry for me, OR people talking to me out of curiousity of why I am married and traveling by myself? Who knows! And yes, I did say Married. Married? Yes, married! Married? Yes, Married! (thats a reference Sixteen Candles, for those of you that didn't get it!). In Bangkok, Char and I got wedding rings to use in Nepal and India to ward off any unwanted attention and to look "unavailable." Well, in Nepal it kinda turned against us, long story but Char, you know what i'm talking about! So we took them off. And now with just me, I put it back on, and it has also backfired with people I didn't want to ward off. So it was about to come off, but then it really came in handy so I'm just going to leave it on. Who knows anyway about this whole ring theory.

Anyway, here's an example of how the best part of traveling is the people you meet: I met someone really friendly in my train compartment on the way to Kochin, Kerala (then later his friend). I met someone while I am checking in the homestay. I met someone randomly on the street. This is all say, within an hour or so. Before you know it, we are all having dinner and then drinks together. Then coffee and dessert at a coffee house (sound familiar?). I met them all individually, and yet, we all got along so well it might as well been like hanging out with any of my friends at home. So fun!

Since I was to be in Kerala for literally 24 hours on the button, I had to move quickly. Luckily, Cochin and Fort Cochin are small enough that it is easily walkable and mangeable. And thanks to my new friends that kindly escorted me, it was even that much easier. Kochi or Cohin, is a cute little town with a cluster of islands and peninsulas, and has a rich history of maintaining ancient western influence because of the former Portuguese and British colonization. Just like Macau, China, its always cool to see these things in a place you wouldn't expect. Fort Cochin is similar to Goa, in that it is "not really India." I don't know if its being by the sea, but everything is sooo laid back, the streets aren't that loud or crowded, I actually didn't even see that many cows roaming the streets, but goats:


and is very relaxing with unique ancient western architecture combined with traditional Indian. There is the famous Chinese fishing nets, a system used for centuries and requires a lot of manpower to counterweight the fish that you catch (although, everytime I walked by it seemed they caught like 10 fish. Thats just me though!):


And then rhere is St. Francis Church, what is said to be the oldest European-built church in India. It was built by a portuguese guy in the 15th century. And by the way, fast fact, did you know that Vasco de Gama was buried there for 14 years before being moved to Lisbon, Portugal? He actually died in Cochin and his tombstone is still in the church:


Which, speaking of Vasco de Gama, on my little tourist map, it 'highlighted' Vasco de Gama Square, which I was looking forward to seeing because I loove European squares (especially in Spain) because they are so full of life, but here... well, it literally was a plain old boring open space with a few vendors. Hmm.... oh well!


So since Fort Cochin has the most concentration of diverse religious establishments, I had to check out the impressive catholic Santa Cruz Basilica,


Jew town, with its 16th century synangogue (which of course was closed because it was a Saturday), is in the middle of a the 'town,' which I guess soon became a center to trade spice in Kochi. Its too bad I don't cook, because it really looked fun to select!


and the muslim quarter:


It really has it all! Lucky its small enough that everything is easily walkable. Fort Cochin is really cute!

So, I hate to admit it, but I am about to leave Kerala without doing the 'thing-to-do,' a backwaters tour. Kerala has something like 900km of waterways and boats are rented as you coast along and see life on the water as well as get a home-made special Keralan dishes (cocunut dishes are their speciality, and fish of course). Oh well... I have to come back, I guess!

BUT, I did enjoy a speciality of southern India, dosa and chatni (chutney) thats more traditionally eaten for breakfest:


The cone shaped thing is the dosa, this paper-thin lentil-flour pancake.

Oh, I'm obsessed, I know, but here is a pict of yet another sunset from the rickshaw I took to Fort Kochin. Pretty, huh?


By the way, its very very hot and humid, and keeps getting even more so as I am working my way even further south. For .0002 sec I actually missed cold, but then I thought about it, and figured I was much better off sweating my butt off then freezing my butt off!

I'm in Trivandrum now, the capital of Kerala. If you look at a map, its literally almost at the southernmost tip of India! On the west side. Its another big city, so I'm just taking the day to relax and hang out. I'm tired! So no surprise how I ended up on the beach in Kovalam! The beaches there, well, Goa is much nicer, and it was so-so. Crowded, ugly sand, and once again, same 'ol with vendors everywhere, murkey water, and then .... more and more people:


Notice, well, I don't think you can notice, but ALL the westerners are laying out on the beach on easy chairs. ALL the Indians are having a blast in the water. It was kinda fun to watch, kids, women fully dressed in sarees, everyone in between jumping around in the water and having fun. Makes me appreciate yet again how Indians are such genuine people that really appreciate the simple things in life. Its just soo amazing here! I don't even mind the rickshaw drivers anymore! So whats a dollar or two? They really are a wealth of knowledge. It is still beyond me how my rickshaw driver in Goa knew that my train was delayed by 3 hours, about 1/2 an hour before the train station attendants knew. Hmm.....

Here is another pict of Kovalam, they had these old boats lying around that were antique looking, but I wasn't sure if they were still being used or just hanging out there?


Actually, I realize that its kinda a dark picture and you really don't see the boat that much, but eh, what can you do?

So today is my last day in India! Minus a possible day in Delhi, but I might be too cold to venture out. I had an amazing time here and am soooo thankful and appreciate for all the wonderful people I've met and also for learning about the diverse culture. I love India for the character it has, and for the great personality of it and the people. Everywhere you go, its something different and unique. Its fun to explore! Talk about NO RULES and living in the moment! I like it! Everyday is an adventure and brings new and pleasant surprises.

Hopefully that will continue as I venture even further south to the great country of Sri Lanka! Stay tuned!

Posted by travellen 10:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

I never thought I would say this, but......


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I kinda like India! Really! Its true! The reason I say "I never thought I would say this" is because, literally, every single person we have met on this trip that has been to India or knows someone that has been here has said nothing other than horror stories, more concerning stomach issues, but still. For example, there is Delhi Belly (umm.... things coming out both ends at the same time), hating it while they were there, loving it afterwards, "my sister lost 20 pounds," "my friend was robbed on the train," people annoyingly taking a picture of you and then claiming to be their wife or girlfriend later, people touching your breasts, blah blah. It goes on and on. So to say that we weren't exactly jumping for joy to come here would be fair.

Well, inspite of all that.... its actually been really enjoyable! Granted, some travelers may say we have been pampered a little and thats probably why we like it. And well... its true. We've been pampered a little. In Delhi we met up with a friend of college who showed us around and hooked us up (Thanks Sachin!), then we were away in a meditation camp for 10 days so we were away from everything. When we got out a friend we met (on the last day, because that was the day we could talk) took us out around Pune and treated us to X-mas dinner, which was nice (thanks Priya and your dad!), and then off we were to Mombay to stay with my friends parents and hang out with some of his friends (Thanks Raj!). His parents are actually almost too nice and giving, but very much appreciated being taken care of after 4 months on the road!


We also hooked up with Raj's friends, Yogesh and Priya, in Mombay who were both super nice. Here is a pict of the group:


They, as it seems everyone in Mombay, were mostly part of the film industry. Not just Bollywood (which, by the way, I looooooooove! Om Shanti Om - I just saw it and I love it! The soundtrack is amazing!). Char and I were trying not to look too clueless we are in healthcare and know nothing about film, but it was kinda fun to be around these people and learn about the industry (they were more about the business aspect of it). It was too bad we weren't there during a time of a primere because we could have gone to that. Next time!!!

Soo... yes, we have been a little pampered, but have still gone out on our own, survived trains and buses, and seen the 'real' India. India is the most polluted country in the world. It also has one of highest level of poverty, which we were also warned about the aggressive beggers. I have to say when people said it "smells," I thought, "sure sure, it can't be that bad." Lucky for us someone recommended to buy Vicks and put it under our noses. The smells can almost be unbearable at times. In between public urinals out in the open, cow maneur everywhere, and just garbage everywhere (really, I've never seen a place so dirty), its gross. We got the jist of it because when we were in Delhi we happened to stay in Old Delhi, near the train station (Main Bazaar), aka. the slums of Delhi. Seriously, even a driver hardly would drop us off there because it was so sketchy. The "street" was pretty much us walking on garbage. Luckily, we survived to live the tale. BUT, if you put all that aside, its a vibrant, colorful, and ever-changing city. Its fun! We learned to dodge rickshaws while crossing the street as well as the 02394832234932 people that are always around. Really, in India people are just everywhere. And here I thought China was bad - ha!

We are in Mombay now, and we've seen yet another World Heritage Site of Elephanta Island, a place with many rock-cut temples and was constructed around 450AD to 750AD. The caves has sculpted images all related to Shiva and many images and stories to tell the story of the god.




Then on the way back by ferry we got a great view of the famous India gate, an icon in Mombay, that was built to commermate India's independence from the British. Next to it is the Taj Hotel Palace, one of the most expensive and beautiful hotels and historic in India. We treated the Pai's to a nice lunch there, which was yummy!


We also went to Colaba, which is one of the most happening areas in Mombay for its street shopping, and for its action. We did some quality shopping there and even came back a 2nd time for more. Ahhhh... just can't get enough of the hustle and bustle!!

The caste division in India is also interesting. Yes, there are a lot of poor or low class people and majority are on the street begging, but there still seems to be some kind of opportunity to work, i.e. drivers, and servants for everything (a person who opens a gate, a person who watches the gate, a person who helps with luggage, etc). At first I thought it was unnecessary (America is all about the consolidating to save money), but then realized that whatever it may be, its providing a job for someone. On the other hand, for the well-off... well, if your family has money, you're pretty much taken care of. You would have a driver, no doubt. Which I admit, isn't that bad (we had a few drivers). The separation of the classes is pretty grave, and I can see it more in Mombay than any other place. Mombay is known for being a business capital and film capital of India, so you can be in areas of the city where you might as well be in a nice place in the States, but then also turn the corner to a slum area. Its a really great and fun city though!

The traffic in India is absolutely horrible and talk about NO RULES on the road! Its crazy!!! Random thought.... we met someone in China who had studied in the States and when we asked him what he thought of the states he said "Booooor-ing." I was TOTALLY taken-aback. Boring? What? That would never even cross my mind. Then I was offended, then taken aback again. I let it go, but now after traveling throughout Asia and now India, yes, the States is boring. When I say boring, I mean by all the rules and regulations, structure, routine, etc. Everything has its place and soo many people (myself included) like it. There is nothing wrong with that. But then when you are in a place that doesn't hardly have any of that, it can be overwhelming and chaotic, but also fun (if you can accept it). Everyday is a new adventure and there are always things happening. I kinda like it!!! I'm going to e-mail that person and tell him to go to India.

All and all, its nice that people speak english and we have had pretty good interactions with the people, they always seem willing to help. Hopefully it will stay that way!

So another night we met up with my friends friend Priya, who owns this beautiful art gallery. This is a sunset picture from her gallery:


I would have taken a picture of the artwork, but I think its illegal? Anyway, She had to make a 5-minute stop at another friends opening and she took us with. We literally were there for 5 minutes, I barely finished my wine and left. Then today, we are in the newspaper! She is in this picture and the article mentioned that she brought along 2 Chicago friends and that we were impressed with the exuberance of the art. Sure, why not? It was kinda cool! So during the brief time we were in Mombay, we are famous! Or.... think like Mr. Pai, who said "why didn't they put your names? It could be any 2 Chicago people?" Well, we know who it is!!!

Oh, by the way, if you thought the beaches in Chicago were bad, check out the seaside here:


See all that garbage? TOTALLY smelly and dirty. When we went for our morning power walk with Mr. Pai, he's like "walk by the seaside!" We just couldn't handle it and instead walked on the street. Ha ha!

Next stop, Goa for New Years! Woo hoo!!!

Posted by travellen 09:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

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