In our experience of travelling, Austria was one of the easiest to plan transits between cities. Everything was online and even while we were there, it was easy to find our way thanks to the readily available maps. We entered Austria from Prague by train and started our trip at Salzburg.
Travelling in Austria – Buses
Austria has a really good network of buses. For our travel from Salzburg to St. Gilgen and beyond, we took the local Postbus service. For long distance travel, you can check Flixbus (https://global.flixbus.com/) and GetbyBus (https://getbybus.com/en/) who are aggregators. Do check out the ratings and reviews of the operator to make sure you pick the right bus for your travel. They can charge you for heavy luggage, so keep change handy. But we would recommend the trains which are very efficient and fast.
Travelling in Austria – Train
You can get details of the Austrian train service OBB on their website here (https://www.oebb.at/en/). The trains are clean, fast and efficient. Booking tickets is easy and we had a very smooth experience. We booked on OBB for our trip from Bad Ishcl to Hallstatt, Salzburg to Vienna and Vienna to Budapest.
Make sure you keep enough buffer between transfers in your journey so that you don’t miss out on a bus/train. It is always better to reach a place early than deal with the frustration of missing a connection.
We always recommend making your bookings atleast a week or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat (preferably, a reserved seat). Also, advance bookings can get you some good deals! Keep your eye out for these.
Where to Stay
If you have checked out our Croatian blog, you would have come across our Golden Rule – to have our stay close to the main attractions while having access to the transit systems. The access part is kept at higher priority as it is convenient when you’re moving in/out with your luggage. We found it very convenient everywhere in Austria as the cities have been designed with great connectivity.
Salzburg: We stayed at Hotel Turnerwirt which was less than 3km from the city centre. There was a bus stop very close to the hotel and was at walking distance from the Salzburg Gnigl station.
Salzkammergut: We made our base at St. Gilgen as it gave us a nice central location to plan our day trips. There are many lovely homestays in St. Gilgen and we stayed at one called Eislbauerhof which had a really nice view of the lake and the entire valley.
Vienna: There are a lot of places to pick from in Vienna. We stayed at an Airbnb with the only criteria that it was very close to a metro station (mainly because we were staying just for one night). Had we planned for a longer stay, we would have picked something close enough to the palaces and museums.
The capital of Austria, Vienna is also considered a hotspot for art and culture in the whole of Europe. With beautiful palaces, museums where you could spend days exploring, operas, musical shows and old coffee shops, Vienna has a lot to offer everyone who visits.
Vienna was the last stop in our Austria trip. It was a short stay – just one day. We arrived at the Vienna train station from Salzburg and left most of our luggage in a locker there – we had to be back the next day for our train to Budapest, so it didn’t make sense to carry all our luggage around the city.
We picked up a 24-hour travel pass and took the metro to Schwedenplatz, which was the starting point of the Ring tram. We picked up some sandwiches, sat on a bench and made our plan for the day. We had a couple of must-do items on our list which we had to fit into our route and the rest depended on our mood and energy levels. As we got to the end of our sandwiches, we had decided to skip the Ring tram and instead do a walking tour. We took the metro to Stephansplatz where we started our walk. Our first stop was the St. Stephan’s Cathedral – a beautiful and imposing Gothic style building with huge pillars inside.
We continued our walk behind the cathedral to Mozarthaus (yes, he had one here as well in addition to the ones in Salzburg and St. Gilgen. We kept walking past the Trinity Column and St. Peter’s church.
The Trinity Column or Plague Column is a very interesting sculpture – made over a period of more than 10 years by various sculptors and indicating the transition to the Baroque era.
A narrow street then took us to Michaelerplatz and the famous Hofburg Palace. Built in the 13th century, this palace served as the imperial residence of the Habsburg dynasty. As we walked in, we could see many horse carriages with tourists going around the square. We skipped the Spanish riding school and went to the Imperial Treasury. The place was unlike anything we’d ever seen – dresses of knights, archdukes and kings, gold embroidery, crowns with rubies and diamonds, crown and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, staffs embedded with jewels and even a cradle which was gifted to Napoleon II.
We then walked to the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) and found out that there was a performance that evening of Swan Lake. We had read on a blog that they usually gave out really cheap standing tickets right before every show – you just had to be at the right place at the right time. We asked around and found the counter – we were told to come back at 7 and we could get tickets.
Our next stop was the Natural History Museum – one of the best in the world!
There are close to 40 halls with exhibits spread across the two floors of the museum. Each one was dedicated to a different aspect of the earth – gems, meteorites, mammals, dinosaurs, mammoths and plenty more. It reminded us of the movie “Night at the Museum” where these artifacts came to life every night (that was the American Museum of Natural History). While we spent over an hour in the museum, it still felt like too little. This is definitely one for next time.
We were hungry by now and looked for the famous traditional Viennese cafe – Cafe Sperl. It was beautiful inside with warm lighting and we managed to get the cozy seats near the window. Sitting there in that cafe from 1880, we felt like we were transported back in time. We ordered Wiener schnitzel, Viennese cold coffee, a “tall brauner” (double mocha) and a cheesecake while we soaked in the atmosphere.
Stomachs full and minds refreshed, we walked to the Naschmarkt – the most popular market in town. You can find all kinds of cuisine here – Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian and of course, Austrian. We even found Indian spice shops there!
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It was almost 7pm and we had to rush back to the Opera to get our tickets. Thanks to the earlier visit, we knew exactly where to go and we managed to get 2 tickets for 6 euros (the normal tickets cost well over 150 euros per person!).
As we climbed up to the third floor, we could sense the history of this place. Built in the 1860’s the opera can seat over 1700 people. The marble staircases and portraits on the walls reminded us of Harry Potter.
We also felt out of place looking at the richly dressed people entering the premium seating area – we had worn the best set of clothes we were carrying and we were nowhere close to fitting in. We entered the standing area – we could see the entire hall shaped like a bowl with the stage on one side. The orchestra was seated at the lowest level just below the stage – there were all kinds of instruments – violins, cello, harps, you name it, it was there! The curtains slowly opened and the chattering audience instantly went silent. There were more than 50 performers and they all moved so gracefully in one fluid motion that they felt like one unit. The music transported us back to childhood when we had heard the Swan Lake track in Disney movies. The ballet dancers balanced perfectly on their toes and as they twirled round and round, we had goosebumps. I even noticed some happy tears from Nam and a few others around – it really was moving!
The show paused for the interval and we decided to head back to our room. It had been a really long day starting at St. Gilgen and we had been walking all day. While our minds wanted to stay till the end of the show, our bodies needed the rest as we were only halfway into our trip. We took the tram to Schwedenplatz and the metro to Stephansplatz. For dinner, we picked up some hot dogs (the “wurst” kind). We had to take two more metro rides to get close to the Airbnb we had booked. The host had a ton of rules (he seemed a bit crazy about cleanliness) and the apartment was quite basic. Most Airbnbs we’d stayed at so far had been good without much hassle and this was our first weird experience. Thankfully we were dead tired and crashed as soon as we hit the bed.
We woke up at our farmhouse in St. Gilgen admiring the view of the lake and mountains.
We had an early start to finalize our plan for the day (yes, we do leave some things flexible till the end). It felt like a plan with a lot of dependencies but we decided to go ahead with it anyway.
After a quick breakfast, we got on the 9:10am bus to Bad Ischl. Bad Ischl is a beautiful town with a long legacy of royalty. It is more famous for being the place where Emperor Franz Joseph used to live and the place where he signed the declaration of war on Serbia (which set in motion the events leading to World War I).
We walked to the train station and bought 2 sets of tickets – one from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt and the other from Obertraun to Bad Ischl. Our train to Hallstatt arrived at 10:20am – it went along the river and then the banks of Hallstattersee. We reached the tiny station at Hallstatt right on time for the 11am ferry which would take us across the lake and to the town.
The lake had a lot of swans and ducks floating around and it was a beautiful sight. We were given a heads-up by a local earlier in the day that Hallstatt would be full to the brim with Chinese tourists – apparently they were so obsessed with Hallstatt that they made a copy of the town in China! He was right! As we approached the town, we saw the iconic postcard view of the village from the ferry.
We wandered around the town for a while – there were steps leading up to small pathways between the houses. After a few hundred steps, we realised that we were not headed anywhere in particular and decided to find the path to the salt mines (before the other tourists could get there).
It was tough to pull away from just standing and admiring the beauty of the town – cute houses with blooming flowers and small balconies. The houses on the lake had garages in the water for boats to park in. But we kept moving and were right on time for the 11:30am funicular which would take us up to the salt mines.
The view from up top was beautiful – we could see Hallstatt, the lake and Obertraun (another small town) on the other side.
While we walk towards the salt mines, you can subscribe to the blog and get notified when we post our new blogs.
We hiked up the path to the entrance of the mines. On the way, we saw a few signboards – the green fields we could see around us were actually graveyards from more than 3000 years ago – over 1500 graves of the salt mining community. We also saw a pre-historic meat factory where over 150 pigs could be cured at once!
We were given a coat and pants to wear before entering the mines.
Our guide, Lukas, led the way and off we went into the narrow tunnel. The hole grew narrow and colder – we could see the salt crystals sparkling all around us. There we were – dressed somewhat like miners and several metres below ground level inside those ancient mines. The mine was divided into many horizontals with slides connecting them.
Along the way, we saw videos explaining how sea salt ended up inside the Alps in Hallstatt – an effect of continental shifts and receding seas. Around 7000 years ago, people noticed animals drinking water from the mountain and tasted the salt – and they loved the flavour! They started digging towards the salt deposits – initially with animal horns and over the years, improving to iron and bronze when the respective Ages came in. In the modern era, liquid methods are used to extract salt instead of breaking into the sides of mountains.
The salt in the hills has also helped preserve fabrics, tools and wood from this time. We saw a wooden staircase from the Bronze Age – one of the oldest well-preserved wooden structures from that period.
We were nearing the end of the tour and went down the longest slide yet – we reached a speed of 25 kmph (and got a photo as well!). We exited the mine in a small train (the kind you see in adventure movies). As we exited, we collected our souvenirs – a free box of salt! The overall tour took about 2 hours.
Now, we had to rush – we took the 2:15pm funicular down to the town. As per our calculation, we would have just missed the bus to Dachstein. Luckily, that particular day, the bus was at 2:24pm and we walked in just as the driver was preparing to leave. The drive to Dachstein Seilbahn took about 10 mins. We bought our tickets for the cable car and the ice cave (Eishohle). The 2:45pm cable car took us to the top. We then hiked up the hill – it was a beautiful forested area – thick woods with just this narrow path curving through.
We could see snow at the next level of the cable car – sadly we didn’t have time to go there. The 15-min walk brought us to the entrance of the cave – there were about 10 people waiting to enter as part of the next batch.
The temperature plunged the moment we entered the cave – from sweating after the steep hike in the sun to shivering! As we walked into the cave, it felt like a scene from a movie – a dark cave with a bunch of people going deeper into it. The temperature kept dropping and got to around 0 degrees celsius. We saw the grave of a bear which was found by the early explorers who had discovered the ice cave in 1910. The next level was full of ice! We were awestruck – it looked like water had been flowing through here and somebody just snapped their fingers and turned it to ice – the currents were literally etched on the ice and it was smooth and shiny.
It was amazing how the ice remained even though it was so hot outside. Our guide told us that there was a tunnel effect which kept it so cold inside.
The cave was made of limestone – and here, unplanned, we crossed out a bucket-list item. Stalagmites and Stalactites! Ever since we had read about them at school, we both wanted to see them in real life – and here we were – in a frozen cave hidden among the forests in a remote part of Austria. Some of these were covered with ice shards and looked like the dangerous traps in video games which would fall down when someone is passing below. On other levels, we saw imposing ice structures over 30m tall and waterfalls that had frozen over! We then climbed up to the upper chambers where we could hear the sound of water gushing. This was the point where water would enter the mountain and freeze as it reached the lower levels. During the rainy season, the force of the water would melt some of the ice but freeze again to form additional layers – as the layers were compressed due to the pressure, it was difficult to melt. In fact, the deepest layers of ice could be up to hundreds of years old! It was really an amazing sight! We reached the exit door and our guide asked us to stay back. He had hardly unlocked it when the door went flying out due to the pressure difference!
We took the cable car back down and were right on time for the 5:20pm bus back to Hallstatt. We walked through the town, took some more pics and got on the 6:15pm ferry. The train from the Hallstatt station was at 6:32pm. We reached Bad Ischl at 7pm. Thanks to the long days, we could still explore the town in sunlight. We walked around the town and saw the river, the Kaiservilla and some of the famous hot baths.
The streets were beautiful and quite cute! We saw a burger stand (Borni Burger) where we ate some burgers and walked back to the bus station. We took the 8:24pm bus to St. Gilgen – this was the last bus in that direction which had a stop at St. Gilgen! It was almost empty – just three people including the two of us.
We generally plan things well during our trips but this one has to be the most precise we’ve ever been. And there was a lot of luck involved too. We managed to visit Hallstatt, the salt mines and the ice caves in Dachstein (and even found time to hike around a bit!). Everything fell in place so well that we managed to travel on the exact buses and trains that we had planned. It is also testament to the amazing accuracy of the Austrian transportation networks. Would we have loved to spend more time at each of the places we went? Yes, of course! But with the time we had, I believe we were able to make the most of it.
Once back at St. Gilgen, we sat out on our balcony and watched the sunset. The moon was also rising in the clear sky full of stars – it was one of the most beautiful moonrises we’d ever seen – the moon climbing up behind the mountains with its reflection in the lake. We left our curtains open and slept watching the moon and stars.
The next morning, we woke up early, said goodbye to the beautiful lake town of St. Gilgen and headed onto our next destination – Vienna. We took a bus to Salzburg and then the train to Vienna. The train was unusually late – the 8:08 train was coming in at 8:28 – something that would be considered very normal in India. This gave us time to pick up a quick breakfast of sandwiches and croissants from the nearby Spar. We boarded our Railjet train to Vienna Hauptbahnhof and off we went! Check out our entire Austria itinerary here.
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There are few places in the world which can rival the pristine beauty of Switzerland – Salzkammergut is one of them! Salzkammergut translates to “salt domain” and lies to the east of Salzburg all the way to the Dachstein mountains. The region is also called the Lake District as it is home to over 30 lakes nestled in between scenic hills and mountains. The geography of the region also makes it an ideal place for resorts and skiing during winters. It is also home to the iconic Hallstatt – which I’m sure a lot of you would have seen somewhere on the internet! So let’s get right into our journey!
You would need atleast 3-4 days to properly explore the region and some of the must-visit sites. To make it easier, you will need to pick a good base location. Some people prefer to stay in Salzburg and make day-trips. The upside is the connectivity from Salzburg. The downside is that you will need to make multiple trips up and down and since Salzburg is on one corner, the journeys are usually long. Another option that people choose is to stay at multiple places as you move along. We decided to go for the third option – pick an alternate base location. And we chose St. Gilgen.
As we looked at options for a good place to stay, St. Gilgen caught our eye. It was located about 30km east of Salzburg, was right on the banks of the Wolfgang lake and was also on the bus route from Salzburg to Bad Ischl which could provide us the connection to Hallstatt. Also, the town of St. Wolfang and the Schafberg peak were a boat ride away. We booked our stay at an organic farmhouse overlooking the lake – it was beautiful! Surrounded by meadows, the place looked right out of a story-book.
We had a really nice view from up there – we could see a church and the town down below, other farmhouses, mountains densely covered with trees, the giant lake and snow-capped peaks in the distance. We spent the first evening just admiring the view from there.
The sun set after 9pm – so we had plenty of time!
St. Wolfgang and Schafberg
We had a nice and simple breakfast in the cozy dining area of the farmhouse – different kinds of cheese, ham, bacon, breads, jams and fruits (most of them from the farmhouse itself). The place reminded us of the place we stayed at in the village of Rastovaca in Croatia. We walked down towards the town and the lake – there were many ducks wading about in the water. Mozart had a house here as well!
Our plan for the day was to cross the lake and get to the peak of Schaberg. Right now, the peak was covered in clouds and we couldn’t even see it! We hoped and prayed that the sun would get stronger and clear them out. At the ticket counter near the lake, we bought a combo ticket which would give us access to the ferry and the cog-wheel train. We took the 11am ferry and got down at the Schafbergbahn stop.
We decided to take the 12:50pm train to the top (giving more time to the sun to do his job) and walked along the lake to a place called Reid Falkenstein. It was a beautiful path – perfect for cycling. I hoped we could someday have enough luxury of time that we could just spend a day or two exploring the places around this lake.
We walked back to the train station for the climb up the mountain. It was an amusing sight! The cog-wheel train had its engine at the back (the engine was literally pushing up the rest of the compartments!). It began its steep climb and it got steeper as we went up (it is the steepest in the country).
We spotted the hiker’s trail – that’s what you would take if you decided to hike all the way to the top – it was equally steep and we were glad that we were on the train instead! It took about 35 mins to get to the top. We reserved our seats on the 2:45pm train back before going on to explore the peak.
Crossing our fingers earlier in the day (and delaying our climb to the top till noon) seemed to have done the trick – we got a very clear view from the top. And what a view it was! We could spot our farmhouse in St. Gilgen (it was a tiny speck in the distance). We climbed up further to the tallest point and more lakes came into view – Mondsee, Attersee and Fuchsl.
We could also spot another lake and the snowy peaks of Dachstein in the distance. It was easily one of the best views we had ever seen!
There was a nice little shop tactfully placed right there – we picked up a hot bowl of goulash (soup) and an ice-cream (no prizes for guessing who ordered what) and sat on a bench enjoying the view.
Once we were back to lake-level, we walked to St. Wolfgang town and explored it till the last ferry back at 5pm. We picked up a pulled pork semmel (a kind of burger) at a shop there – one of the best burgers we’ve had!
We’d found a nice place for dinner at St. Gilgen (Wirt am gries) where we had schnitzel, chicken with asparagus and rice and some really good chardonnay wine. It was a beautiful place with outdoor seating – the weather was nice with clear skies the entire day and Schafberg peak glinted in the distance.
Looking for a country in Europe where you want to experience the beauty of nature? Austria may not be the first name that comes to mind. We are pretty sure it is among the most beautiful places we’ve visited (if not the most beautiful one). Nature is at its full glory with beautiful lakes, rolling green hills and mountains blooming with flowers in the summer and turning into the most amazing ski resorts in winter. It is one of those places where you want to keep going back and is home to some amazing food, culture and sights.
Austria (or Österreich in German meaning the “eastern realm”) is a dream choice for itinerary makers – it shares its borders with Slovenia and Italy in the south, Hungary and Slovakia in the east, Czechia and Germany in the north and Switzerland (and Liechtenstein) in the west – giving travellers many options to plan short trips to the neighbouring countries.
Best time to visit
June to August is the peak tourist season as is the case in most European countries. If you want to avoid the crowds, plan your trip in April-May, early June or September – the prices will be lower and you will also get good weather. Having said that, Austria is great for all seasons especially because of its ski resorts which come into action in the winter. And of course, you don’t want to miss the Christmas festivities in Vienna while you’re there anyway.
Austria is extremely well connected by rail and bus. You can enter the country at any of the major cities and then use the rail and bus networks to explore the country. We didn’t have to look for cabs or private transport anywhere – just make sure you have the bus and train timetables handy so that you can plan your travel. The buses usually run on time and you don’t want to end up a minute or two late.
Indians can enter Austria with a valid Schengen Visa.
What is the ideal number of days to spend in Austria?
This is an important question to answer as you don’t want to miss out the best places the country has to offer. As always, it also depends on your budget (both in terms of number of days and money) and we have a strict limit on our number of days – so optimization is key. We would recommend that you spend atleast 5 days in Austria to cover Salzburg, Vienna and the Salzkammergut. Here’s our itinerary along with some of the options to help you decide!
Day 1: Arrive at Salzburg by train from Prague (with a changeover at Linz). Walk around the town, explore some of the local food.
Day 2: Explore the town – Mirabell Palace, Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mozart’s birthplace and the Cathedral. Everything is within walking distance so you don’t need to worry about transportation. Here is the blog detailing how you can plan your day in Salzburg. Take the bus to St. Gilgen in the evening. Night in St. Gilgen.
Day 3: Take a boat across the Wolfgang Lake to Schafberg and take the cog railway (Austria’s steepest) up to the peak with the spectacular panoramic view of the Salzkammergut – one of the best things you’ll ever see! Explore the town of St. Wolfgang. Boat back to St. Gilgen.
Day 5: Morning bus to Salzburg and train to Vienna. Explore the city, visit the palaces and museums and attend the Opera. Here is our Vienna guide. Night in Vienna.
Day 6: Train to Budapest.
Here are some suggested changes based on the type of person you are / group you are travelling with:
Culture and History Buffs: Vienna is the perfect place for this. You should definitely budget 2-3 days in Vienna to explore the museums (especially the Natural History one) and palaces in more detail. There are also a lot of iconic spots around the city and some really good cafes which you shouldn’t miss!
Time is not a Constraint for me: Add Innsbruck to your list of places – it is a short train ride away from Salzburg. You can also spend more time exploring the Salzkammergut.
So this was our itinerary. Check out our other blogs on how to make the most of your Austria trip here. We absolutely loved Austria – especially the smaller towns! If you want to enjoy nature and culture, pick Austria and you will not be disappointed!
When you pick up a map of the Middle East, you can see it being dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Zoom in a bit to the north of Saudi towards the Mediterranean and you can spot a bunch of countries squeezed in – Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
We were looking for a place to add onto our Egypt trip. And Jordan was the most logical choice. Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and one of the safest countries in the region to travel in, Jordan would be perfect for a 5-day trip.
When you think of the Middle East, you usually think of deserts and rugged terrain as far as the eye can see. Jordan is far from that – in fact, we were stunned by the biodiversity and geography as we travelled from north to south!
Jordan is a historically significant region thanks to its location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Humans have been living here for over 200,000 years. The ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, Umayyads and Ottomans have ruled it at some point in history. Its modern shape started forming after World War I when France and UK re-drew the borders in the region. This gave the British control over Israel, Palestine, Transjordan and south Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (as it is called today) was finally formed in 1946 as the British Empire started retreating globally. Thanks to all these cultural influences, Jordan is a perfect destination for history lovers as well as foodies!
Best time to visit
Most parts of your Jordan itinerary would include outdoor activities and having good weather really makes for a memorable experience. March-May is considered the best time to visit. September to November is also a good time to visit. Avoid the summer months of June-August and the winter months of December-February. We travelled in March and got beautiful weather throughout the trip.
Getting around Jordan
You can fly into Jordan at the Amman Queen Alia Int’l Airport or the Aqaba King Hussein Int’l Airport depending on where you want to start your trip.
While you do have the option of taking public transport (buses between cities and taxis within them), we would recommend picking an option where you have your own vehicle. You can choose to hire a car and drive yourself. Or you could customize your itinerary with a local travel agency – they will arrange the car and hotels as well as your Visa. We went for the latter option as it was the most convenient one while being very cost effective. Also, we did not want to spend our trip trying to decode signboards and getting used to driving on the other side of the road (in India, we drive on the left).
We picked Sherazade Travel as our agency – they arranged 3-star hotels, a private AC van, Visa and entrance tickets for our tours. Our driver/guide Ameen was the most amazing host as well. We totally recommend them!
Arabic is the main language in Jordan. The currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) which is one of the strongest currencies in the world (1 JOD = 102 INR / 1.41 USD as of Mar 2021).
How many days to spend in Jordan?
Jordan has a lot to offer from the beautiful Roman ruins at Jerash up north to the mesmerizing desert of Wadi Rum in the south. You can spend anywhere between 4 to 10 days in Jordan depending on the activities you’d like to fit in.
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
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!
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.
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:
Ema Datshi – chilli with cheese
Phakshe Paa – Pork Bacon
Jasha Maru – Chicken curry
Shamu Datshi – Mushroom with cheese
Khaktem – fried bitter gourd
Azey – chilli paste with a mixture of green chilli, onion, tomatoes, salt and cheese
Khuli – buckwheat pancakes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Ho Chi Minh City is an excellent base location for one-day trips in South Vietnam. We went for two such trips – Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta.
Day 1 – Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple
We booked this trip online through Get Your Guide. The pickup point was in HCMC District 1 like most day trips from HCMC.
The first stop was the Cao Dai temple where the religion of Caodaism was founded. This religion started in Vietnam as recently as 1926. It combines teachings from some of the major religions of the region – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.
You can also find Jesus and some Hindu Gods sculpted inside the temple halls.
We got to witness their prayer session in the afternoon where dozens of people congregated to chant the hymns. It was certainly a unique experience – it felt more like a cult than a religion – which got us thinking how every religion was a cult to start with!
The best part of the trip was our next stop at the Cu Chi tunnels. There are two sections of the tunnels which have been opened up to visitors – Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. The first one is more touristy, and some parts of the tunnels have been widened for people to fit through easily. Ben Duoc would give you a better perspective on history as it is mostly preserved as is. We were lucky that our tour had the Ben Duoc section.
We spent almost 2 hours walking around the dense jungle and crawling through the tunnels. If you wish to understand how it was for the people here during the Vietnam war, this will give you a better sense than any museum. The entrances to the tunnels were concealed in the ground with mud and leaves. The tunnels were tiny and dark with spiders and bats lurking in the corners. It is a claustrophobic person’s nightmare. It is mind boggling to imagine how the Vietnamese fighters lived in these jungles and tunnels for years at a stretch – with imminent threat to life!
The tunnels are a must-visit if you are in Vietnam and especially HCMC. If you get a choice on which tunnels to visit, go for Ben Duoc without a doubt.
The next day, we went on a day trip to the might Mekong Delta. We booked it online again, this time on Klook. The tour agency((TNK Travel) was however the same – and we were more than happy as their service was really good and so were their tour guides. Our guide on this trip, Tam, was especially enthusiastic – he even sang many folk songs for the group!
The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world and it originates in Tibet and runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally drains into the South China Sea through the extensive delta system in Vietnam.
The drive from HCMC to the town of My Tho in the delta takes about 2 hours. This trip is perfect if you want to explore the country-side of southern Vietnam. Our first stop was the Vinh Trang Pagoda where we met the giant statues of the laughing Buddha, Amitava and the reclining Buddha.
We were then taken on boats to an island for a simple Vietnamese lunch. We enjoyed some fresh Pomelo juice picked right from the gardens around us.
We then visited a coconut candy factory and had snake wine (it also had scorpions, lizards and spiders!). Not for the faint-hearted!
This was followed by the much-awaited boat ride through the narrow canals of the Mekong.
The final segment was a traditional song performance accompanied with honey tea and more fruits.
It was a day filled with culture, food and fun! If you have an extra day, you can visit the floating markets at Can Tho.
Read more about our trip through Vietnam in our blogs here. If you liked this one, do drop a comment below to share your thoughts. You can also catch all our latest stories on Instagram at @fridgemagment.tales.
Vietnam is well connected through its international airports at Hanoi (Noi Bai Airport), Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat Airport) and Da Nang acting as major hubs. You can explore Vietnam by plane, train or bus. Renting a car is not a recommended option here with a left-hand drive and the not-so-good roads with sign boards in Vietnamese.
Travelling in Vietnam – Plane
Flights are a very good option as it saves you time and if you plan in advance, you can get some really cheap deals – we got Vietjet Air tickets from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (INR 2200)! The flight connectivity is superb, and you can easily find a lot of flight options to suit your schedule.
Pro Tip: We always make sure we travel light with 2 small backpacks as cabin luggage and 1 suitcase for check-in. In such cases, we book separate tickets – one at the lowest fare (like the $30 ticket mentioned above which doesn’t include check-in luggage) and the other with the luggage add-on. This helps you save quite a bit if you have flights on multiple legs of your journey.
Travelling in Vietnam – Train
Trains are a good option if time is not a constraint in your itinerary. To give you some context, the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes almost 40 hours vs a 2.5 hr flight journey! That said, it is the best way to see the countryside and have a leisurely trip. You will most certainly take a train if you are planning to visit Sapa in the north. Make sure you book your tickets in advance especially if you are travelling on weekends. These are a couple of recommended websites for booking train tickets in Vietnam 12Go and Baolau.
Travelling in Vietnam – Bus
Buses can be found connecting all towns and cities. Be warned – the roads are not great and the buses not very comfortable. The journeys are long which means it will definitely add on to your days in the itinerary (Check out our itinerary here) – both in terms of travel time as well as recovery time. You can find bus tickets on the websites mentioned above for the trains.
Travelling within the city
The cities we went to were the 3 most tourist friendly cities and have a good public transport system which you can rely on.
In Hanoi, for airport transfers, we used the city-airport bus line – look for bus number 7 or 17 and you can get from the airport to the city centre for less than 1 USD per person. You can find out the routes and timings here. Once you reach the Old Quarter, most tourist spots are accessible by foot.
Ho Chi Minh City also has buses, but we didn’t use them as the routes were longer and prone to traffic jams. We went for “Grab” taxis – convenient and easy on the pocket.
Grab taxis are available in all the major cities – make sure you have the app downloaded. It comes in really handy – don’t worry if you don’t know Vietnamese – the app has a chat translate feature where you can type in English and the driver gets it in Vietnamese (mind=blown!). They also have food delivery on the same app – so if you are feeling too tired to step out, they can “Grab” you a quick meal!
Where to Stay
Hanoi: As close as possible to Hoan Kiem Lake. This is where you will be spending most of your time – whether it is exploring the town or hopping into eateries. We stayed near Ta Hien street which was close enough to the bus stop where you get buses to the airport.
Hoi An: Close to the Old Town as this is the centre of activity. We stayed in an Airbnb on the island which has the night market. It was an amazing homestay with super nice hosts who helped us out with our transfers from Da Nang.
Ho Chi Minh City: District 1 – this is where all the day-tours start. You can also find a lot of good restaurants in this district.
Airbnb’s are very popular in Vietnam and with the right set of filters and locations, you can find some really good places. We booked all our accommodation through Airbnb.
Check out our other blogs on Vietnam here. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot them in the comments below. To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales