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A Guide to Thimphu – Dzongs, Archers, Food and much more

Thimphu is the capital and the largest city in Bhutan. It is home to the Royal family and is the commercial centre of the country – it is a place where you can experience a blend of Bhutanese culture, tradition and modern lifestyle.

We arrived at Thimphu on Day 2 of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here). Our first stop was the Simtokha Dzong – the oldest dzong in Bhutan built in 1629.

We had arrived in time for a prayer session and got to experience it in one of the halls. The hall was decorated with beautiful multi-coloured victory flags hanging from the ceiling. Butter lamps were burning on one side of the hall in front of the 3 statues – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the founder of Bhutan). The chanting of the monks reverberated inside the hall and it was a truly mesmerizing experience. I had witnessed one such prayer session in a monastery in Ladakh and it was equally amazing. Karma, our guide, took us around explaining the legends and stories.

We then went to the gigantic Buddha Dordenma – the golden statue of Buddha stood on top of a hill overlooking the city.

It is likened to the image of Buddha Shakyamuni. The statue is over 50 metres tall and was opened in 2015. In 2018 when we visited, work was still happening in the complex surrounding it. You can visit the halls inside which has over 100,000 statues of Buddha!

Next up, we were off to visit the national animal of Bhutan – the Takin. Legend goes that the Takin was created by Lama Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman (more about him in the Punakha post) by placing the head of a goat on a cow’s skeleton. That is pretty much what it looks like as well.

We stopped at the National Textile Museum and the Changlimithang Archery Ground. Archery is the national sport of the country. If you see an archery match going on, do take out some time to watch – it is a spectacle! The targets are so far away that they are hardly visible to an average person. Teams celebrate bullseyes with dances and songs!

This guy hit the target by the way! It was followed with a fair bit of dance and song!

The grounds also have an important history – it stands at the site of the decisive battle from 1885 which led to the unification of Bhutan and ended years of wars.

In the evening, Karma informed us that the founder of Bhutan Travel Guru, Mr Tsheten, would be taking us out to dinner to a traditional Bhutanese place. We were super excited to try out the local delicacies! We were even more amazed at the amount of personal touch being added to our trip – a testament to the Bhutanese hospitality.

FOOOOOD!

Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with the butter tea. As the night gets colder, this warm cup of happiness comes to your rescue. Enjoyed with crunchy rice either as a topping or a side, it is the perfect way to start. We also had some dumplings, pork and ara (locally brewed rice wine) as starters.

For the mains, we had a huge spread – almost all of them containing good amounts of chillies and cheese – both staples in Bhutan. Here are the dishes we had:

  • Mushroom soup
  • Ema Datshi – chilli with cheese
  • Phakshe Paa – Pork Bacon
  • Jasha Maru – Chicken curry
  • Shamu Datshi – Mushroom with cheese
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Khaktem – fried bitter gourd
  • Azey – chilli paste with a mixture of green chilli, onion, tomatoes, salt and cheese
  • Khuli – buckwheat pancakes
  • Red Rice
  • Druna Ghu – nine different grains found in Bhutan mixed together

Let’s see if you can identify them in the pics below!

As we found with other foods we ate in Bhutan, it was simple and delicious! My mouth waters as I attach these pics.

Dochu La

Early next morning, we started on our way to Punakha. On the way, we had to cross the mountain pass of Dochu La. On a clear day, you can see the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas from here. But we were greeted by a thick sheet of fog. This gave the place a mystical other-worldly look!

Right in the middle of the road are 108 chortens (or stupas). These stupas were built as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in a battle with rebels.

Near the chortens, a short walk up will take you to the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang – a beautiful temple with flowers on both sides of the steps leading up.

On the other side of the road, we saw signs pointing towards hidden meditation caves. The mist added to the experience as we climbed up the slope looking for the caves.

We really enjoyed the experience here! After spending a little over an hour here, we proceeded to Punakha for the next leg of our Bhutan adventure.  

Tip: If you happen to be in Thimphu during the weekend, do check out the weekend market!

Read all our blogs on Bhutan here. Do leave us a comment if you enjoy reading our blogs. Check out all our latest travels and stories on our Instagram page @fridgemagnet.tales. Don’t miss out our Bhutan Highlights.

A Day in La Digue – Home to the Iconic “Seychelles Wallpaper”

You may have seen a place many times on TV, desktop wallpapers and screensavers. You might think that you won’t be awestruck, and it will seem familiar when you visit there. However, when you do see it in real life, it still takes your breath away! La Digue in Seychelles is one such place.

La Digue is a 10 min boat ride away from Praslin (read about how you can book tickets here). We woke up at 6:45am and took a bus to the Praslin jetty for our Cat Cocos boat which would leave at 8:45am. If you were feeling a bit sleepy when you got on the bus, you would be wide awake by the time you reached the jetty – it is crazy how fast these buses go on such narrow roads! We reached well ahead of time – thankfully, the water was very clear, and the fish kept us entertained.

The ride was surprisingly smooth (like the ones we had in Croatia). At the La Digue jetty, we picked up a couple of bicycles – the preferred mode of transport to explore the island.

We headed straight to the L’Union Estate – a colonial-era plantation and farm – also, home to some giant tortoises and the Anse Source d’Argent beach. We grabbed some breakfast at the Old Pier Café while enjoying the beach views.

Next stop, the tortoise farm. The tortoises here were huge – some were older than 100 years! People who say that tortoises are slow are not exaggerating – we tried feeding them some leaves, and it looked like they were moving in slow motion! One of them was nice enough to pose for a photo!

We then rode through vanilla plantations and reached the main attraction – Anse Source d’Argent.

Any amount of time here would feel like less – I’ll let the pictures do the talking now.

You can also go snorkeling here – if you’re lucky, a few fish may come all the way up to the shore to say hello! Here’s one of them who was consistently photobombing everyone. It kept coming really close to our feet as we walked in the water!

We left rather reluctantly as we didn’t want to miss our boat. We cycled around to the north of the island till the point where the road started going down a steep slope – we were in no mood to push the cycle back up that slope!

With just about an hour left, we grabbed some lunch from Mi Mum’s takeaway (the juice was so fresh and delicious that we converted more currency just to have more of it!) and some ice-cream from Glorious Bakery.

The boat picked us up at 2:15pm and we headed back to explore more of Praslin. If we would pick one beach out of all the ones we visited in Seychelles, it would no doubt be Anse Source d’Argent in La Digue!

For more details on how you can plan your trip to Seychelles, check out our blog here.

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Five Days in Paradise – On A Budget!

Roughly a thousand kilometres off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean lies the island nation of Seychelles. With human occupation coming relatively late in the 16th century, Seychelles is a “young” country with a cultural mix of French, British, African and Indian influences. There are around 115 islands which consist Seychelles – these are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world as well as really diverse landscapes and ecosystems.

As we scoured the map for possible “5-day trip” destinations, we didn’t think beyond a domestic location initially. We happened to stumble upon Seychelles while looking for flights. It ticked all our criteria for a short trip – can be covered properly in a 5-day trip, cannot be clubbed with any other country nearby, Visa on arrival, a 4-hour flight – it was perfect!

Some quick research and bookings later, we were on our way. We were planning to visit three of the main islands – Mahe (which has the airport and capital – Victoria), Praslin (home to the Coco de Mer) and La Digue. So, let’s get started on how you can plan your perfect holiday in Seychelles!

Best Time to Visit

Being very close to the equator, Seychelles experiences warm climates throughout the year. Peak tourist seasons are December-January and July-August. The best months which are generally recommended are the shoulder months between the switching of the trade winds – April-May and October-November. The trade winds can also determine the amount of seaweed washing up on the beaches – keep an eye out for this if your hotel is on the beach.

We visited in early March and the weather was pleasant and perfect for a beach holiday!

Getting Around Seychelles

There is a direct flight of Air Seychelles operating from Mumbai – which is the one we took. You can also find direct flights from Dubai, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa and London (and some more locations).

Once you are in Seychelles, you can choose any of the following four modes of travel: flight, boat, bus and car.

Domestic Flight: You can fly from Mahe to Praslin (and back) on one of the tiny Twin Otter 19-seater planes operated by Air Seychelles. The flying time is hardly 20 mins and is definitely a ride worth experiencing! To reach other more remote islands, you can opt for charter planes as well.

The last time I sat on a plane this small, I jumped right out at 13,000 feet.

Boat: There are ferries operating between all the main islands – you can easily book them online here. It takes about 60 mins to travel between Mahe and Praslin. Praslin to La Digue is about 15 mins – the ride is so smooth that it gets over before you realize it!

Bus: There are buses running in Mahe and Praslin which you can climb on and buy tickets. Praslin is very simple – you either go around the island or take the route which cuts through the hill in the middle. Mahe is relatively bigger – grab a route map and get started. Buses are sparse and run on limited frequency during weekends – you can beat that by taking a car!

Car: One of the more preferred options to explore the islands is by renting a car. You can easily get one at the point of arrival – ferry jetty or airport (advance booking would be good as we found that most agencies run out of cars on the travel date). We went with Scenic Car Rental. It was a good decision as we discovered that our homestay was on the top of a steep hill and we would have struggled to walk all the way up! A car also gives you the flexibility to stop wherever you find a nice spot and explore the island better. We recommend this!

Visa and Currency

Indians have Visa on arrival at Seychelles along with 140+ more countries. So, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of applying for visas! The currency of Seychelles is the Rupee (SCR). 1 SCR = 3.5 INR as of Dec 2020 (it was 5.25 INR in March 2020 when we travelled).

How many days to spend in Seychelles?

The BIG question when it comes to any itinerary – how many days is good enough? For Seychelles, it depends on how many islands you’d like to cover. For Mahe, we would recommend atleast 2 days – you can spend upto 4 days for a relaxed vacation. Praslin is more laid back – you can spend 1-2 days here and add one more day for an excursion to La Digue. Our itinerary covered these 3 islands over 5 days. If you have more days in hand, you can visit the giant tortoises at Curieuse Island (day trip from Praslin), the Bird Island or the Cousin Island.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Mahe. We flew in from Mumbai. Fly to Praslin. Explore the beaches – details in our blog on the beaches and hills of Praslin and Mahe.

Day 2: Morning boat to La Digue. Explore the island on bicycles – this is a must-visit island and a one-of-a-kind experience. Say hi to the giant tortoises and the most photographed beach in Seychelles.

Back to Praslin and bus to Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve (home of the Coco de Mer). Explore more of Praslin (bus to Mt. Plaisir) and back.

Day 3: Boat to Mahe. Spend the evening exploring the Beau Vallon beach area.

Day 4: Explore Victoria and the local markets. Hike to the top of Morne Blanc. Enjoy a swim at Grand Anse. Have an authentic Creole lunch. Drive around the northern roads of the island.

Day 5: Explore the beaches in the south of Mahe island – Anse Intendance, Anse Royale. Complete the drive along the entire periphery of the island. Fly back at night.

You can pay a visit to the Takamaka Rum Distillery or visit some of the art galleries if time permits. There is also the Victoria Botanical Garden – you can check out the tortoises and Coco de Mer if you missed them on the other islands.

This should help start your planning for that long-awaited trip to Seychelles. You can read more about each of the islands and the must-visit places in our other posts – Mahe and Praslin, La Digue.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Cambodia – A Day in Siem Reap

The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated west of Vietnam in the Indochina peninsula of South-east Asia.

Our trip was a short and sweet one – we spent two days in the historical area of Siem Reap, home to the biggest temple complex in the world – Angkor Wat.

Getting There

You can fly into Siem Reap or come in by road from Phnom Penh. We took the Cambodia Angkor Air flight from HCMC, Vietnam (check out our Vietnam blogs here) – the airport was one-part resort, one-part temple and zero-parts airport.

Our tuk-tuk was waiting outside (the hotel had arranged a complimentary transfer for us as part of the stay).

Our plan was to spend the first day exploring the town and head out to the ancient city early morning on day 2.

Where to Stay

Cambodia is quite inexpensive, and you can easily find very good hotels for reasonable prices. With some bit of checking out websites and using coupon codes, you can get 5-star hotels for as low as US$ 85 per night. What this also means is that for US$ 35-50, you can get really good hotels as well. We stayed at Chheng Residence – it had nice rooms and was quite close to the Old French Quarter. Make sure you stay close enough to the Old Quarter so that it is easy to walk around and explore.

Weather

There are 2 broad seasons in Cambodia – dry (Oct-Apr) and wet (May-Sep). Oct-Dec is considered the best time to visit as the temperatures are moderate as compared to other times in the year. The moderate was not what we expected. After checking into our hotel, we stepped out to get some brunch. It was hot! After pleasant weather in Vietnam throughout, it felt like we had been dropped into a hot oven.

Most places were closed as it was past breakfast time and before lunch started. We found a cozy little place called Fresh Fruit Factory where we had smoothies and pancakes (a bit on the expensive side but very fresh and tasty stuff!). We also didn’t see many people around – this was the time of the day to enjoy the hotel and the pools and bathtubs. That’s exactly what we did – we headed back to the room and waited for the sun to go down.

Currency

Cambodian Riel is the local currency, but you can easily get by with USD. You will see price tags in supermarkets and menus in restaurants have USD mentioned and that’s what they prefer.

What to do in Siem Reap

The number one thing to do here is visit Angkor. But we’ll take that up in another post as it deserves one of its own. After sunset, we walked and explored the town. Here are some recommendations:

Walk/Jog along the bank of the Siem Reap river

Visit the night market (on the other side of the river – close to the Hard Rock Café) – really good place to pick up some souvenirs

Visit Pub Street – the place has a crazy party vibe

Get a massage – you could probably get one at your hotel too

Sample some Khmer cuisine – we ate at the Khmer Grill – the food was really good!

The insect eating frenzy is quite overhyped – try it out if you really want to, but not recommended.

Siem Reap is in many ways a signature “touristy” place and one day is enough to explore the city. You can make this a base location for a few day trips – the Angkor complex, Tonle Sap Lake and the Phnom Kulen National Park.

Check out our Angkor itinerary here.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, feel free to leave a comment! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales