Tag Archives: train

Getting Around Vietnam – Travel and Where to Stay

Getting to Vietnam

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

Getting Around Croatia – Travel and Where to Stay

Getting to Croatia

We start with how to get to Croatia from the neighbouring countries. The easiest and expensive option is by flight – through Zagreb or Split or Dubrovnik and use flights for the rest of the journey. You can use any booking website to look at available options. In this blog we will cover how to use trains and buses and make the most of them to get around Croatia.

From Budapest, Hungary: Our itinerary of Eastern Europe led us from Budapest to Zagreb. We had the option of taking a bus which would take about 5 hours (excluding the time for immigration at the border) or the train which was a similar duration but was more comfortable. We chose the train for two reasons: first, to enjoy the countryside and second, the train would stop at the border and we would have to switch to a Croatian train for the rest of the journey to Zagreb – this was something we wanted to experience.

The train from Budapest

For booking all your train tickets anywhere in Europe, we would always advise you to go to the official website of the railways as they will always give you the best and cheapest options. In this case, head to www.mavcsoport.hu (the Hungarian railways website). To guide you through how to book tickets here, check out this detailed account by The Man in Seat 61 – the go to place if you want guidance on train travel anywhere in Europe. Do note that you will not get an e-ticket for this train. You need to keep the code you will get by email and collect the tickets at automated machines at the train station in Hungary. We recommend booking the tickets in advance so that you don’t have to figure out travel options at the last minute. You also get cheaper tickets on advance booking. Budapest has multiple railway stations – you can catch the train to Zagreb at Budapest Keleti (Keleti Palyaudvar) railway station.

From Austria or Italy: The best option would be to travel to Zagreb via bus. The journey would take you through beautiful Slovenia and if you are lucky, you would get a long enough break to explore the beautiful lake town of Bled.

Now that you’ve reached Croatia, buses and ferries are your lifeline to get around.

Travelling in Croatia – Buses

Croatia has a good network of buses which are convenient to get from one place to another. Two very good websites for booking buses are Flixbus and GetbyBus. These guys are basically aggregators which will show you options from various companies. 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.

Pro Tip – Split to Dubrovnik

You can choose to take a bus from Split to Dubrovnik and back. However, the road route crosses a tiny patch of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What does this mean? You are exiting Croatia and need to re-enter to continue the journey which means two rounds of immigration checks. This also means that if there is a hold-up for a single person in the bus, the entire bus needs to wait. The travel time from Split to Dubrovnik is 4.5 hours excluding the wait at the checkpoints. We wanted to avoid this bit and planned it in a way that we used boats both ways. Check out our complete itinerary here.

Travelling in Croatia – Ferries/Catamarans

We took catamarans from Split to Hvar and onwards to Dubrovnik. There are two major operators – Jadrolinija and Kapetan Luka. We used both for different legs of our journey and would recommend both equally. Both connect the mainland to all major islands along the coast and you can plan all the legs of your journey accordingly.

Other Tips

Make sure you keep enough buffer between transfers in your journey so that you don’t miss out on a bus/boat. 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

The sweet spot for us while booking a place to stay is to have it close to the main attractions with 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. In Europe, it becomes much easier than most other places as the cities have been designed with great connectivity.

Zagreb: We picked an Airbnb at a walkable distance from the bus station (which is also close to the railway station). We had an early morning flight out of Zagreb and chose to stay near the origin point of the bus.

Plitviče National Park: The park itself does not have any options for stay but there are a couple of villages right outside the main gates. We picked Rastovača which is a 10-15 min walk along the highway from “Entrance 1” of the park. The buses from Zagreb stop at Entrance 1. Make sure you reach when there is still daylight as the highway goes through a dense forest and you don’t want to be stranded here in the dark! Rastovača is a beautiful village with some nice cottages where you can find rooms on Airbnb. We stayed at a lovely little cottage called House Spehar (where we had some amazing breakfast the next day!). You can also choose to stay in some of the hotels near Entrance 2 – we didn’t go for these as most of the crowd enters the park from here and the best way to explore it would be start at Entrance 1 in the opposite direction of the crowd. For more on how to make the most of your day at Plitviče, click here.

Split: When in Split, try to stay as close to the Old Town as possible. Split has an active nightlife which is concentrated in this area. As the public transportation dies down quite early, having your room close to the Old Town is a major plus. On one of our stays, we couldn’t find a place close enough and we had to walk back almost 4 kms (couldn’t even find cabs!).

Hvar: The island of Hvar is quite big – however, the preferred places to stay are near the port for ease of movement. With some effort, you can find some beautiful Airbnb’s with amazing views. Be wary of the stairs as there are many in the area! Hvar also has some amazing seafood places, but more on that here.

This should get you going on your tickets and accommodation in Croatia. For more on the itinerary, the places you should visit and the food you shouldn’t miss, check out our other blogs on Croatia here.

Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to shoot your queries as well! To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

How to Make an Itinerary

The Plan

The summer of 2017 – Nam and I were planning our first long vacation together. We were looking at 13 days in the first half of June. After working out multiple itineraries, we settled on Eastern Europe. We wanted to experience the best of what each place had to offer. This meant staying with the locals, having the best of the local cuisine, exploring the small lanes by foot and travelling light by public transport across cities – in other words, backpacking! The way I see it, there are two types of backpackers – ones who go where the roads take them and others who research and plan well ahead. It is difficult to be the first type when you are a working Indian and have less than 15 days of vacation (sigh!). Also, I prefer to be second type – it ensures that you do not miss out on the top experiences. In fact, I enjoy planning trips almost as much as the travelling. Continue reading How to Make an Itinerary

The prequel – A Tale of Six Islands

The previous diary that I wrote of North India, had 6 parts and I decided to shorten the next trip’s account to make it reader friendly. This will be a story of 6 islands – in three parts. A trilogy is the safest bet, at least in movies – LOTR, Matrix, Bourne, Oceans, Toy Story. The only thing that works for me with more than 3 parts is Federer’s Grand Slam victories. I wouldn’t mind seeing him win a 100 times!

This part is the prequel – the one where the story takes off.

This story starts off in a supermarket where we are holding tubes of sunscreen like monkeys holding an iPhone. SPF 20, 30, 40?!! Having no clue about the technicalities, we made a rational decision like a manager – after trade-offs between the price, brand and SPF level, we picked out a few. Pleased with ourselves, we returned to college. (We later found out that our choice hadn’t really been the best one! :P)

We were a group of 11 – six from our hostel wing and five adopted members. We started our trip with steak burgers at Downtown Café in Calicut. Super Yum! We then headed to the railway station to catch the West Coast Express to Chennai. It felt like a really short trip with time flying as we played bluff and mafia.

We were welcomed the next morning at our very own Mehtaji’s home with delicious grilled sandwiches, bhel puri and sweets. I had taken on my usual role of the money bank with my camera bag acting as the ATM. We booked tickets for the movie Queen, which had recently released. And missing movies in Chennai would be a crime, given the cheap ticket prices. We checked-in for our flight the next morning so that we got window seats. All planned and set, we walked to the Marina beach. Right next to Mehtaji’s home was the main office of AIADMK (a prominent political party). The shops near the place had small photos and frames having Amma’s photo – like you get the ones for Gods near temples. Chennai is indeed different!

At the beach, we shot some balloons (with those moong dal bullets), discussed the atrocities of the college admin while sitting at the shore (will never get tired of doing that), ate a sub (chicken ham with loads of mayo) and went in for the night show at the nearby theatre. The movie was delightful and kinda fit in with what we were looking for – a last big escapade to enjoy a long trip without having to worry about deadlines or leaves.

The next morning we took taxis to the airport. We spent some time doing bakar and cracking some very punny jokes – couldn’t help it with so many Mallu’s in the group. Soon, we were on our way to Port Blair as the rickety Air India flight took off to cover the 1200 km over sea. So as promised, this prequel is where the story literally takes off. Stay tuned. Click here for Part One of “A Tale of Six Islands”

Trains and Nostalgia

Travelling on trains always makes me nostalgic. It’s like that reset button. Brings back perspective into life. Today I’m travelling from Chennai to Bangalore. I’ve been to Chennai Central a lot of times. The first time I was here was at the age of 10, travelling from Patna to Alleppey. I think it was Patna to Howrah, Howrah to Chennai and then Chennai to Alleppey. Knowing the delays in trains from the east and north, we’d kept a gap of around 15 hrs between trains as a buffer and still missed our train from Chennai! I remember it was the time of the Sabarimala season and our train was full of black clad, bare footed swamis. I’ve been to Sabarimala twice and it’s an amazing experience. Continue reading Trains and Nostalgia

A Train Journey (17/12/2011)

(The rhythmic sound of the train)

Here I was, on yet another train journey, but on a new route this time. I was on my way to Mumbai from Yeshwantpur (Bangalore). The reason for the trip – Mood Indigo at IIT Bombay (Read Mood Indigo). It was a 24 hour journey. So I pick up my Nokia 2700 and start writing. A lot of thoughts rush into my head looking at the landscape rushing by. I decide to pen them down (or in this case, type ‘em down!).

Continue reading A Train Journey (17/12/2011)

Ranipuram & Bekal Fort, Kerala

Kerala is a really beautiful place in terms of natural beauty. You get to see pristine beaches, misty mountains, valleys, forests and backwaters – everything in that tiny strip of land along the south Indian coastline! I’m sure you’d have heard of Alappuzha, Fort Kochi and Munnar. But this time, I’m going to take you to two lesser known but beautiful places – Ranipuram and Bekal Fort in the northern district of Kasargod in Kerala.

Continue reading Ranipuram & Bekal Fort, Kerala