I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.


Everyone’s talking about China...There is great interest in China as a travel destination .


I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.

Of Flash mobs and Antwerp...

There’s so much talk about flash mobs and viral videos now- the best flash mob to date was the one I saw on 'You tube' some time ago, set in Antwerp Station.

Monday, December 19, 2011


What is War tourism or Dark Tourism? It is a term used to describe tourism that capitalises on painful memories. All over the world, people visit sites like Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Hiroshima Peace Park and the Killing fields in Cambodia to have a glimpse in to the hardships of people who suffered. Sometimes to make peace with their own demons or to remember a loved one... Some people think that this kind of tourism is voyeuristic and to be discouraged but like someone once said, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” In Vietnam a country once torn by war and strife, memories of the painful past are everywhere. One of the most interesting places that I visited in Vietnam was the Cu Chi tunnels, an hour’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The web -like Cu chi tunnels, allowed the Vietcong to control a huge slice of the rural area, almost up to the Cambodian border. Some of the tunnels even ran under the US military base and helped these guerrilla fighters to launch surprise attacks and disappear quickly. Today sections have been enlarged to enable tourists to enter them. In the past a elite band of American soldiers called the Tunnel rats were enlisted (based on their small stature) to enter these small tunnels  and flush out the Vietcong.

Our guide Thung first explained the layout using a model - a three level ingeniously planned underground maze, with meeting rooms, hospitals, bedrooms, kitchens, and even cavernous theatres! People lived, got married, had babies and even died in these subterranean rooms...Thung explained how the chimneys from the kitchen were several metres away, and had flat vents, so that the smoke just diffused gently, instead of a plume. Bamboo poles were stuck through the ground in to the tunnels to provide air in the rooms and disguised as termite mounds from the top.

A man in army fatigues opened a miniscule, camouflaged wooden hatch and in the blink of a second, did a pencil dive into the small trapdoor that leads to the tunnels. The diabolical Vietcong made their weapons and land mines using recycled metal from bomb shrapnel in a most dangerous procedure. Their very rudimentary but durable footwear was made from strips of old rubber tyre treads. There was an unnerving section devoted to the different traps used by the VC-the tiger trap with a hinged trapdoor that flipped up and throws the person into a bed of bamboo spikes, tipped with poison. Of course they have tried to create a kind of Disney war park- there is even a souvenir shop with war memorabilia: planes and toy tanks from coco cola cans, dog tags and jewellery from bullet shells and fake Zippo lighters. But all the same- a crawl inside these tunnels makes you admire the grit and determination of these people who survived all the odds!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Top 13 Travel moments of 2011

It clearly wasn’t easy to choose my Top 10 moments and narrow it down... I am really thankful for all the exciting opportunities which came my way, and here is the list of my Top 13 Moments....

1. Transfixed by the jadeite Bok choi: I kicked off 2011 in the most perfect way, in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan which I did not expect much from, but which turned out to be a great city. The highlight for me was the National Palace Museum with treasures spirited away from Beijing’s Forbidden City. One of the best museums that I have seen to date. The jadeite Bok choi cabbage in a glass case, from the Qing Dynasty with translucent white to deep green leaves is something that I can’t forget easily. Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world was another not-to-be-forgotten experience! This is one country that I want to explore outside the capital, on my next visit.

2. Modern architectural high: I am generally not a fan of manmade wonders as compared to natural ones, but the lotus-like Art Science Museum at the Marina Bay Sands was a stunner. Meeting the great architect Moshe Safdie, exploring the world that is Marina Bay Sands (what we call an Integrated Resort), was a unique experience. The travelling exhibition that I saw there( from the Smithsonian) called’ Shipwrecked’ about a ship laden with treasures that sank off the coast of Indonesia, appealed to my romantic soul.

3. My first Glimpse of Lake Louise- My trip to Canada needs its own Top 10 or 25 moments! Banff and Jasper National Parks were certainly the high points of the entire year...A symphony of rugged and craggy mountains piercing the skies, with glacial capes and evocative names, deep avalanches, emerald lakes, thundering waterfalls vying for attention on both sides of the ribbon of tarmac, wildlife at every turn (Bears and elks lumbering along the roads)-the drive along the Ice fields parkway, with a glacier walk thrown in was the highlight of the trip. The stay at Fairmont Lake Louise and the views from the window took my breath away! The absolutely, adventurous ‘aha’ moment - zip lining through the temperate rain forests of Whistler! Can’t believe I did that!

4. Bonding in Nam - At the risk of sounding Oprah-esque a truly life changing mom- and- daughter trip. Vietnam- warm people, amazing food and the most fascinating culture. Had a glimpse of both dark moments in history like the Cu Chi Tunnels and the modern face of the country in HCM City. The pick of the trip was Hoi An- a small town in Central Vietnam filled with art, ready-in-a-day tailors, and fascinating history. The atmospheric My Son ruins, a kind of Vietnamese Angkor Wat was an eerie but time- travel experience. Our road trip through the country from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue and then Hoi An as well as two days on the Mekong River, with a guide gave us so many memorable vignettes.

Shrined out in Angkor: Angkor War was a long cherished dream- amazing place, so much to see that I have put it on my list of places to re-visit. Bayon, Angkor Thom...the list is endless. The artistry, the history and the jungle encroaching on the ruins- this is one destination that can never be over-rated!

5. On a chocolate high in Flanders: Chocolates and canals, carillons and arched bridges, brick facades painted a salmon pink -Bruges in Flanders was again a dream come true! Gothic architecture, Michelangelo’s Madonna and child, sessions with famous chocolatiers, this was one of the top destinations of the year for me. Belgium itself was a great destination in terms of the compact distances and the variety of sights- Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels too were unique and enjoyable, Put them on your list- Now.

6. Time warp in Cesky Krumlov: Prague has been my favourite European city, This year I discovered the Czech Republic beyond Prague- picture book cities like Cesky Krumlov which are great value destinations too. Cesky Krumlov has the most incredibly picturesque setting with a river and a hilltop castle; we rafted the Vltava, ate on the riverside cafes, walked the winding streets and fell in love with this small town. Top Bizarre moment of the year- the Bone Church in Sedlec with decorations made from yes, bones!

7. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef: I went back to Queensland after many years, and the Whitsundays was a dream destination. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cuddling a celebrity koala on Hamilton Island, a trip on a 100 year old ship, landing on Paradise Bay Resort (which has only twenty people at a time) from a seaplane, feeding manta rays, Ocean rafting...this trip was just one thrilling experience after another!

8. Cruising the Fjords and a night in Flam: The fjords...Norway- Bergen and beyond was the most ethereal experience of 2011. Lego like farms with red roofs, green pastures with shaggy goats, gargantuan walls of lofty mountains, the grey waters below, low hanging clouds like lost spirits, this was like an Impressionist painting come alive. If you want pristine, untouched, spectacular landscapes, put Norway and the fjords on your list. Recommended trip-Norway in a Nutshell.

9. One day in watery Stockholm: This was such a picturesque city, that I regretted the fact that I could not spend more time there. Stunning architecture, a buzzing cafe culture, a museum built over a restored warship, green spaces and postcard views at every corner- Stockholm is firmly on my list of places to re-visit!

10. Queen for three days at Ahilya Fort and Mandu, India. Closer home, my trip to Maheshwar and Ahilya Fort and the ruins of Mandu was a back-in-time top experience of the year. Poised women with copper pots, children swimming in the waters and locals washing clothes on the Ghats against a backdrop of elegant honey coloured temples with shikara towers, this was a scene out of medieval India. Staying at the atmospheric and intimate heritage hotel- Ahilya Fort, was an incredible experience! A surreal world of elegant palaces, magnificent mosques, crumbling towers and medieval reservoirs with tales of love and death, victories and losses weaved in … my day trip to Mandu was magical!

11. Going Retro in Riga-Stylish balconies and windows, with stucco images of seashells, stylised plants, chestnut leaves, peacocks, reeds and poppies, Greco Roman nymphs and gods entrancing at every turn- Riga the capital of Latvia was another revelation of 2011. Great Art Deco architecture, rich culture, great shopping and a value destination- this is still an under-rated city.

12. Zen Time in Koh Samui –This was an idyllic time- the perfect place to kick back, lounge on the sands and the pool and catch a bit of culture and good food. Loved this island, its quirky sights like the Grandfather Rock (see my article) and the easy vibe.

13. Coasting along the Great Ocean Road: The close of the year saw me in Melbourne, Australia. The drive along the iconic Great Ocean road was certainly the high point here. Pristine beaches lashed by brutal waves, bush land, cathedral like arches, pretty-as-a-postcard seascapes, a smorgasbord of ocean views and even emerald canopies of rain forests- my road trip was completely a high-on-nature experience. And I actually saw koalas in the wild- incredible! The Twelve Apostles from a helicopter was the icing on the cake.

Though my time spent in Langkawi did not make it to the List, it was a tropical beauty! Helsinki was a repeat trip- a beautiful Scandinavian city made for walking! For everyone reading, I have to say that it’s powerful to write a list like this for yourself and reflect back on everything you’ve done in the past year (not confined to travel) that’s brought you great happiness. Happy travels in 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I am on the Edge...on the Sky Deck of the 88th Floor of the Eureka Tower in Melbourne, Australia- the second tallest residential building in the world. Each apartment had an original price tag of A$7 million just for the empty space; purchasers were required to fit out the apartment at additional cost.
On the last ten floors is gleaming 24 carat gold lining the windows reflecting the sunlight on to the glass. A lift hurtled me here in 38 seconds... it’s like being in an aircraft and your ears go pop! Two lifts exclusively service Eureka Sky deck 88. The fastest lifts in the Southern Hemisphere, they travel at over 9 meters per second. For a white knuckle ride I get in to a 10 feet cube of frosted glass cantilevered THREE METRES outside the building. There are a lot of fearsome noises and dramatic soundtrack, after which the glass clears and whew- I find myself suspended on the edge of the building looking down at the abyss- the futuristic galleries of Federation Square, the lazy meander of the Yarra River and the Victorian enclave with leafy gardens.
Why the name Eureka? That was the rebellion that took place in 1854, during the days of the Gold Rush in Ballarat, when the miners rose against repression and sowed the first seeds of democracy. The gold crown represents the Gold Rush and the red stripe the bloodshed. The blue and white of the Eureka flag runs across the building. The top of the building can flex in the winds up to 600 mm. And there are two gargantuan water tanks on levels 90 and 91 to counter any swaying… As I walk out of the building I notice a swarm of giant golden bees above the entrance.. art work representing people living in a community like a hive?
Sky deck 88 strongly recommends that you do not ride 'The Edge' if you have any of the following conditions: 

• Fear of Heights
• Fear of Enclosed Spaces
• Sensitivity to Loud or Sudden Noises
• Pregnancy
• Heart Problems

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