ASIA

Kerala: Kovalam, Alleppey, Munnar

 





As we planned on staying in Kerala for 8 nights, time realy wasn’t on our side. Distances in Kerala are quite significant, which we didn’t expect at all, considering Google-Maps showing us 120-150 km routes. Because of the traffic and the narrow roads, 120 km could easily take up to 5 hours of your prescious time.

We landed in Trivandrum, as we were planning on spending New Years Eve on the beach, and we opted for Kovalam, because the surroundings and its red-white striped light house looked very charming.

Kovalam.

Kovalam’s beach was nice, nothing more nothing less. The restaurants at the beach front were quite alright for indian circumstances. However when you moved further away from the back alleys of the shore, the surroundings got pretty odd. There wasn’t an ATM nearby. You’d find plenty of roadstalls selling the usual stuff, chewing pan, sodas and biscuits. On New Years Eve, we were part of the few younger folks walking through the sand of the beach. Bars and restaurants were busy with older people, mostly europeans.

There was nothing going on late at night. Selling alcoholic beverages was prohibited if the bar wouldn’t pay a pretty expensive authorization. Some bars would sell the booze under table and serve the wine, beer or spirits in coffee mugs. For half a bottle of red wine we paid 10 euros / dollars on NYE, which is insanely expensive for indian people. Of course we had to hide the bottle under the table, in case the cops would show up.

Kovalam had its charming side, because only after one day, the locals would start recognizing you, and you’d get in lovely conversations with them. Of course always having in mind to win you as a customer in their shop or restaurant. The weather was flawless, even at night we had t-shirt temperatures. The water of the sea was pretty warm and the palmtrees bordering the shore made Kovalam a pretty place.

One day we drove up to Varkara with a rental scooter, it took us 5 hours in total to do the roadtrip. Varkara looked different than Kovalam, less buildings, more greens. In the end I can’t tell you which beach I actually prefered. We enjoyed the scenery along the road while heading up north. But I guess the 5 hours driving weren’t worth it, to spend some hours on a beach.

Initially we planned on staying 2 nights in Kovalam, but we extended our stay for one more night, as we didn’t want to rush with the usual check-out and packing our backpacks after the night of NYE. Honestly 3 nights in Kovalam is too long, as there isn’t much to do in the area. You can do daytrips to Varkara, the center of Trivandrum which gives you the feel of a city-vibe, or driving down south to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial (which we didn’t do, as it would take another 5 hours of driving in total). The scooter rental rate was a bargain, as we only paid 300 rupees per day (4 euros/dollars).




Alleppey and its backwaters.

After driving up north to Varkala, we figured out that Alleppey would be quite a ride. The distance between both cities is around 160 km which takes up to 5 hours driving.

A local told us that you can reach Varkala by train, however the train only leaves in the early morning and only once a day. So we opted for a taxi, which would cost us only 40-50 euro/usd, hassslefree, with an A/C, and you can sleep in the back of the car. Easy!

Alleppey is well known for its charming canals and its bigger lake on the northern side. That’s what we saw and what we got. In Alleppey we visited the city center, however the town looked like any other indian city. Our pleasant part of Alleppey was definitely our stay the “Bamboo Lagoon Resort”. The Bamboo Lagoon had the feel of a guesthouse, as there weren’t more than 10 to 12 rooms for rental. We had the chance to get one of the 3 rooms of a cottage that were very close to the river’s edge, facing the backwaters. Opening the doors in the morning was very beautiful as you could witness the beauty of the house boats passing by, watching the local fishermen in their canoos, or just observing the neighbours taking “a shower” in the river. It definitely felt more like India, than Kovalam’s beaches.

There wasn’t much to do on the “island”, as you had to a 1 minute canoo-trip to reach mainland. For one day only it was very pleasant to saviour the quietness of the resort, spending an hour in a hammock and watching the boats passing by. You could book a boat from the hotel and do a canal trip through the back waters. The boat cost around 500 rupee an hour (5 euro/uds). It would lead you through different canals and offer you a scenic view of the neighbourhood.

Unluckily on our first day we were told that on the following day, violent riots could take place in the city as there was an issue with a nearby temple, where women were granted access to use the temple for the first time ever. The radical religious fanatics obviously didn’t like that, and the use of violence was expected. So the only way to get to Munnar was to leave in the early morning at 01:00 or 02:00 am, or we would have to stay a second night, and spend all day at the resort, as driving with a taxi or buses was prohibited for security reasons. We decided to leave at night.

However we were already pretty sure that we would stay one more night at the bamboo lagoon on our way back home to the airport.

Munnar.

Munnar was a contrasty destination in comparison to the backwaters and the beaches of Kerala’s coastal region. Munnar is a located in the mountainous area of Kerala. It looks very green and hilly and the temperatures tend to be much lower at night.

Our roadtrip to Munnar was quite an experience. In the end we can have a good laugh about it, however the behaviour of our driver was rather dangerous than hilarious. The taxi driver picked us up at 01:30 in front of the bamboo lagoon resort. We put our stuff in the trunk and our journey began. After a couple of minutes the cab was stopped by the local police. They asked where we were heading, as it wasn’t allowed to drive out because of the riots that would high-probably happen that day. We were allowed to move on.

On the road I noticed how the driving behaviour of our driver changed: accelerating, breaking, accelerating, breaking.. and it went on like this. I instantly knew he was too tired to hold the road. After having hit the sidewalk numerous times, the driver decided to have a break and sleep for 30 minutes. Later on he told us, that he hadn’t slept for almost 24 hours.

We arrived in Munnar just before 07:00am. We stayed at the “Kaivalyam Wellness Retreat” for one night only. Before checking in we didn’t know that the resort had a fully-packed schedule with activities for their guests: free yoga classes, free tea tasting, early morning visits of the tea plantations, and many many more. They even gave free cooking classes 3 times a week. Obviously the cooking classes didn’t take place when we were visiting… as for myself, I’m always missing the best parts while traveling. Bummer!

The Kaivalyam Retreat was most definitely a beautiful place. Surrounded by endless trees, different kind of plantations (black tea, cardomon), it felt so refreshing breathing in the mountain air with all those scents outside of your room.

After having checked in, being led to our room, taking a shower… we notice the beautiful tree houses outside of our window. The lovely owner of the hotel, was so kind to give us a kind of upgrade, and let us move into one of the few tree houses that were available. Spending the night in a tree house was already worth the 5 hours we drove in a taxi to reach Munnar.

We were looking forward to discover the mighty green hills that we found on Google. Sadly during our visit, most of the tuk-tuk drivers were off work, because of the on-going strike all across Kerala. So it wasn’t possible to get to those greeny landscapes, as they were located 15 kilometers away from our resort.

Nevertheless, we were enjoying our 30 hours in Munnar. The 07:00 am yoga class was fun. It was interesting to witness the indian point of view about yoga, its flow, and how they practice it. We were executing all the asanas on traditional matt, rather a rug, and it kinda felt like I was doing yoga for the first time.

This was pretty much our Kerala trip.

So during a whole week, 7 days, we managed to visit 4 different cities: Kovalam, Varkara, Alleppey and Munnar (and we made it back to Alleppey and Kovalam on our last 2 days). Obviously we couldn’t experience all the parts of that beautiful state. But we experienced enough, to agree that it’s worth doing the drip. The whole trip changed my view of India, as it wasn’t actually that fun the first time I visited the country.

If you’re a fan of Bali or Srilanka, you will love Kerala.

Namaste to all the lovely people that crossed our path on this trip, … we met too many lovely ones!

Bali ~ Ubud, Uluwatu, Canggu

So after having spent 10 fabulous nights in Thailand, I had to choose my next destination for my pre-summer trip in june. I was pretty sure that it had to be Asia, as I just came back from a very satisfying visit in Bangkok & Chiangmai.

It was about time to break my solo-traveling routine, because a good friend was about to join me. So after a few seconds of brain-storming we came up with Japan, Bali or Thailand.

Since my plan was learning how to surf in 2018, we shared the same thought that taking a first surfing class as a 35 and a 39 year old young man, would be a pretty cool experience. Surfboards, cafe racers, beaches and jungles... we opted for Bali. And besides all that I would celebrate my 36th birthday on the island. It all sounded like a lot of fun.

Sadly two weeks prior my departure my good friend had a motorbike accident and got badly injured with a broken foot. This meant that I had to travel on my own. Back then I couldn't tell why, but I really wasn't in the mood for visiting Bali all by myself. Maybe because we know Bali from dreamy photos on Instagram, where you get to see endless photos of couples, engagements, weddings, ... It all sounded like "noooooope. this is a lovers' destination".

Ubud.

I started my trip in Ubud. I was told that Ubud would be super touristic and packed with Yoga people. Actually I do love yoga, but I can imagine, being surrounded by gurus and spiritual nerds, that this could become pretty annoying. I booked a bed at the "Pillow Hostel", because their rooms looked pretty descent, and they offered free yoga classes in the early morning. Sounded pretty ok! However because of the daily rain showers the yoga classes didn't take place on the open-air rooftop.

I knew about the rain-season before traveling to Bali. So I wasn't disappointed about the rainfall, mostly during the night, and couple of hours during daytime. Luckily there were some days without rain as well.

What to do in Ubud? Well I won't list any super fancy touristic spots, that I would highly recommend, or any must-try restaurants. All I can tell, go rent a scooter! You will definitely not enjoy Ubud without a scooter, if you're not doing any yoga-esque activities. There's a daily market in the very center of Ubud. The streets are packed with shops, the restaurants are filled with tourists. You hardly won't meet any local people on a night out.

I really wasn't keen about renting a scooter, in a country, where people drive on the left side of the road. I haven't been riding a motorbike for too many years. Then came the slippery roads because of the rain... So many reasons why I wouldn't rent a scooter. I overcame my doubts and went for it... I rented a scooter for a day. From that point I knew I would rent a scooter any time again.

I discovered so many cool spots around Ubud and I met local people. Locals let me join a very religious ceremony in a hindu temple. They first denied when I asked if they would let me in. As I told them that would carry a long-sleeve shirt and a sarong (a traditional skirt for men) in my bag. They were so surprised about that, that they let me check out the temple.

I met several groups of kids, who were trying to bring up their giant homemade-kite in the sky. They told me that this would be a balinese tradition, and later on my trip I noticed several spots where the sky was packed with colorful gigantic kites. Beautiful!

I visited the holy bathing temple called "Tirta Empul". Everybody knows the temple from the photos. Before going to Bali, I knew that I would find this bathing temple on the island. However I didn't know that all the people I had seen on the photos, taking a shower under the several fountains, were tourists. If Balinese people jump into the bathing pool to get under the fountain, they do it in the early morning around 5 am (05:00). So expect to bump into a lot of tourists while visiting the temple.

The "Pelingghi Meru", a pagoda-like structured temple, is another eye-catcher you will find on many photos. It took me almost 2 hours to reach the temple by scooter from Ubud. But I really wanted to visit that place. As I arrived in front of the pagoda I was surprised how small it was. It looked very tiny. And again packed with too many tourists.

I always enjoyed the scooter-rides through the suburbs of Ubud. Lots of nature: rice-fields, palmtrees, lakes, beautiful sunsets. So many spots to take a lot of beautiful photos.

Have a couple of stops at the coffee-shops on the side of the road and you will be surprised how many lovely conversations you will get with balinese locals.

The "Tegallalang Rice Terrace" is definitely a must-see. You can easily spend 1-2 hours on the rice fields, take many beautiful photos, enjoy a coffee, and get an instragram-cliche-shot one of the many giant-swings located around the ricefields.

Even though I didn't like the center of Ubud, because of the tourists, I gotta admit that Ubud was my favorite city among Uluwatu and Canggu.

With a scooter you can visit endless waterfalls which are located pretty close around Ubud. There's so much to do, even though you won't get that impression of Ubud at first sight.

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Uluwatu.

Well I decided to have a stop at Uluwatu for 2 nights because it's supposed to have the cleanest surf beaches of Bali. Uluwatu is well known for its huge waves on the shores, which brings fabulous surf spots with it. All this sounded like a cool place to hang out. Every monday night there's a huge party at "Single Fin's". It's pretty packed and a great time is almost guaranteed.

However no one tells you, that Single Fin is located on a private ground, where you gotta pay a fee to drive in with a car or on a scooter. Expect, once again, only tourists among the crowd, as balinese people can hardly afford a beer in that kind of restaurant/bar.

I wasn't in a party mood on that monday night, so I didn't make it to the party. I visited the restaurant on the following day, and all I found out, was that I didn't like the place. The cheapeast gin&tonic was actually pretty expensive for a longdrink in Bali. However you can enjoy a pretty descent view towards the sea and watch people surfing. If this is what's you looking for, nice view, fast food and watery drinks, go for it!

I stayed in the very center of Uluwatu where there was barely nothing that would a attract a 36 year old guy on a scooter. Laid back restaurants, street food stalls, hundreds of supermarkets and clothing stores, and some surfboard-rentals.

To get to the closest beach it took me about 10-15 minutes on a scooter. It was called "DREAMBEACH", and it was actually a pretty nice beach compared to the rest of the beaches that I had explored in Bali. However you had to pass two security check-points, and at the end of the ride, you had to pay parking fee to park your scooter.

Uluwatu was the first place, where I booked my first surfing classes ever. In my opinion the waves seemed to be huge, and as a newbie, they seemed very scary. I only surfed for about 90 minutes instead of two hours, because my arms couldn't manage the paddling anymore against those monster waves. And I wasn't too keen about the surf trainer either. But I was glad that I took the classes, as it took some courage from my side, to get into the water for the first time with a board.

In Uluwato you get the chance the visit the "Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park". It's actually very touristic but I had the possibility to witness one of the biggest statues I'd ever seen. Would I call it a must-see, definitely not, however if you gotta kill some time in Uluwato, the park is definitely worth it to spend an hour or two at.

Before I forget about it... there's a popular Hindu Temple in Uluwato, everybody knows about it, everybody wants to visit it. Go for it!

Canggu.

Canggu is supposed to be the hipster hang-out spot of the whole Island, and it definitely was the case. "Pretty Poison" offers you crowded nights on tuesdays and thursdays, big crowds hanging around the skate-bowl and cheering up the skaters. Their menu offer 4 different descent cocktails and a couple of beer brands. Hip people, trashy rock music, skaters everywhere, pretty girls... you get the vibe, it feels like Venice Beach! The first night I went to Pretty Poison, there was a concert inside the venue. Actually it was a very sweet rock band, which I'd rather watch play, than watching topless skater dudes in the bowl.

I loved the quote above the bar "Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair".

Cafe-Racer fans definitely know the brand "DEUS EX". It's a pretty chill hang-out spot (bar & restaurant) where you can witness the coolest bikes and the coolest custom-made surf boards on the island. They have a "DeusEx" shop where you can spend some money on clothes and other stuff. I went there on daily basis to have lunch. The food was flawless, for a reasonable price. I loved their polenta fries and falafel salad. The music at the restaurant and the indoor design was a plus!

I took another 2 surf classes in Canggu, and I had the pleasure to meet a much nicer surf trainer. The beach wasn't as nice in Canggu, as it was in Uluwatu, however I enjoy the surfing sessions a lot more, because the waves weren't as huge as in the south.

Besides the hip rock bars and hip surf shops, there were so many things that bothered me in canggu. The main reason was the huge amount of tourists, australian tourists. Every bar, restaurant, club, beach spot was packed with tourists. There wasn't a place where I would bump into local people in the center of Canggu. The only locals that I met was at the local tattoo shop "Bold & Bright Tattoo", where I got tattooed. I loved the tattoo artists, they were very welcoming. And I turned back home, truely satisfied about my traditional old-school dagger tattoo. The price was totally a bargain compared to the money you gotta in Europe or the USA for a descent tattoo.

To be honest, I didn't like Canggu at all ! On Instagram everything looks so hip, fancy, and photogenic, but it real life it definitely wasn't. And all those thousands of tourists killed the vibe of the city. I was actually happy to get back home, after my iphone got stole a scooter drive-by while I was walking back home on my birthday night. Happy Birthday Frank!

 

If I ever should get back to Bali, I'd definitely spend more time in the north of the island, where you won't bump into as many tourists as in Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu.

Be cautious about your belongings at night. The guys from my hostels told me that I was the 3rd victim within a month, who got robbed by dimwits on a scooter.

Bold & Bright Tattoo.

As I just mentioned, my iphone got stole on my birthday night, as I was walking home in a very lonsome way... drunk & texting through a shortcut that all the scooters use to get quicker around the city center. While I was busy texting with my friend, as there was no one to celebrate with, a scooter approached me and grabbed my phone out of my hand. The driver just blasted away at full speed, impossible to run after him.

I felt devastated... aallll my photos from Bali were gone, my videos, my contacts, my text messages. And of course I had to spend a shitload of money to buy a new phone. Besides the stole phone, I had planned to get two tattoos at "Bold & Bright". Their prices were pretty much affordable compared to european or US tattoo rates. However knowing that I had to spend the money on a new phone once I'd be back home, I decided to cancel my appointments. 

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Ocen, the tattoo artist, was the nicest person I crossed path with in Canggu. There was no problem with canceling the appointment, even though he told me he could lower the price if I still wanted to get tattooed. 

The next day after waking up I decided to call Ocen, and get one tattoo done. Despite low expectation, or maybe high expectation in some points, Bali had a kind of "wow-effect". It was the first time I ever felt the island vibe on a trip, because I was used to experience the big city life while traveling. It was the first time as well, where I jumped on a surf board, and for a long time I knew somebody would be waiting for me when I get back home. So I decided to bring a lasting souvenir back to Luxembourg. Ocen was very welcoming on the day I had my appointment. He showed a lot a patience and he asked funny questions when I told him he should add a special letter to the tattoo. We talked about tattooing & music (his favorite band was Alkaline Trio), while Matt Skiba's solo record was playing in the background. 

I turned back home totally satisfied with my fresh tattoo, that cost me around 200$. 

I loved their wifi-code "bolderthanyours".