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Why I wouldn’t go back to Phnom Penh

The bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was fairly uneventful, the so called highway was nothing more than a never ending dusty stretch of land, and by the end of it, we were pretty glad that we hadn’t attempted to drive around on our own.

A short Tuk Tuk ride from the bus stand took us to our hotel, The Plantation. I had read rave reviews about this hotel, as one of the best places to stay in this city and I wasn’t disappointed. The hotel is really artistic, the staff is very friendly and helpful, the buffet breakfast is fantastic, and the spa, totally relaxing (we were offered a discount which I obviously availed 😛). But the absolute best part is the huge pool with cabanas along it’s length, where you can relax endlessly with your drinks and books, and when the sun gets too much, just walk down few steps and jump right into the pool!

The giant pool at The Plantation

The giant pool at The Plantation (the cabanas are on the left, you can somewhat see them here if you look closely)

The room

The pretty room overlooking the pool

I had two days in Phnom Penh which I spent mostly at the pool and spa in our hotel, visiting the Killing Fields, sampling amazing cuisine at Romdeng and Friends, buying souvenirs at the Russian market, walking across the waterfront and enjoying a meal at one of the local café’s right opposite it. While that sounds like quite a bit, I must be honest in admitting that I didn’t really enjoy Phnom Penh. It’s not a city that made any impression on me, at least not a positive one, which is exactly why I wouldn’t go back a second time.

I recall that on our first night we decided to have dinner at the very famous Romdeng, which wasn’t even a kilometer away, so we wanted to walk the route. Our hotel strongly discouraged us and asked that we take a Tuk Tuk since pick pocketing was common on the road. We didn’t pay heed, since it wasn’t too late in the night(8 pm) and presumably safe. While walking in a fairly well lit lane, we were followed by this guy on a bike, constantly circling around us and it did scare us a bit. We clutched our wallets and phones tightly and walked hasty steps till we reached the restaurant. And this wasn’t the only instance, all of which eventually led us to leaving our phones, cards (even my earrings behind) carrying only the minimum possible cash. This left me edgy and uncomfortable for the most part, and as a traveler that is pretty disappointing. I have also known of others who have experienced this – a friend who went to Phnom Penh on a work trip was elbowed by a guy on a bike and had her bag snatched. This was while she was walking with another colleague in broad daylight. She bravely held on to her bag and the bike guy had to let go.

I had a fantastic time in Cambodia but Phnom Penh was probably the only place in my entire trip where I didn’t feel safe and welcomed – it seemed like everyone from the Tuk Tuk driver, to the roadside vendor was out to rip us off.

Possibly the only thing that you may want to specially visit Phnom Penh for is the Killing Fields and Genocide museum. These are the biggest tourist draws to Phnom Penh, and while one may argue why such a place has been opened to tourists, I do think seeing these places will offer you an insight into Cambodian history like nothing else. It is said that every Cambodian today, over the age of 50 has witnessed and survived Pol Pot’s extreme regime, every family has experienced this horror.

I visited only the Killing Fields and I can tell you that it is definitely not an easy place to visit. Under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, nearly one third of the population was killed or died out of starvation. The killing fields were where these mass executions were carried out and one of these is now open to public viewing. Since bullets were expensive, people were killed by torture, slitting their throats by sharp leaves, hacked by hammers, rods or hung from trees. The “killing tree” was used to kill babies, by smashing their skulls on this tree. The experience is disturbing and horrific. During rains, many times skulls, bones and clothes rise to the ground surface even today. A giant stupa now acts as a memorial for all those who lost their lives and displays skulls and bones of the victims, which were recovered from the mass graves. It is unimaginable, chilling, painful.

We walked back in silence, the air still, heavy and foreboding, and skipped going to the Genocide Museum that day.

Cambodia is now opening up to tourists from all across the globe, but it is a country which is still getting back on its feet, one day at a time. In a warped way, I could make sense of my discomfort, understand why locals are always out to make an extra buck, why you need to be careful with your belongings lest someone snatch them – I can’t justify any of this, but I could understand it.Somewhat.

The memorial, Killing Fields

The memorial, Killing Fields


Have you visited Phnom Penh? Would love to know of your experience in the comments section.


A Foodie’s Love Affair with China

Exploring local food is a part of travelling that I really look forward to, and I always feel intrigued on how food plays such a crucial role in many cultures worldwide. Seemingly mundane matters of what people eat, how they eat it and who they eat it with can shed a lot of insight into history, weather, local produce, traditions and habits.

For a foodie, China is definitely out there in terms of quality, complexity, variation and flavor. There are some Chinese dishes that have found popularity globally but that is still a tiny tiny speck of what the cuisine has to offer. Many countries where Chinese food has become popular have adapted the cuisine to suit local palate, to the extent that there is nothing Chinese about it anymore 😉 . In India for example, Chili Chicken is a dish of mass appeal, had as a starter mostly, but ask a Chinese about it and they will draw a complete blank.

The food in China is more than fantastic, and I am surprised to say that I did not have one bad meal. 3 weeks, 3 meals each day = 63 meals out and NOT ONE BAD MEAL.

That is incredible in my view. And very very rare.

So this post is a memoir of the dishes I loved the most in China, from the regions I travelled.  Goes without saying that this is not an all-encompassing list. So if you are planning, do not go near the fast food chains and western restaurants as that would be a terrible waste of an opportunity. Not only that, a Chinese meal is a shared experience. There is no concept of individual portions. Meals take time and are savored. There is conversation and food. Lots of tea. It’s a grand ritual in itself that is repeated meal after meal, day after day and there is something very comforting about it.

Before I drool any further, here are my favorite 15:

Har gou: Steamed Shrimp dumplings, delicate and flavorful with a really thin skin and delicate juicy meat inside. Read more on enjoying a Dim Sum meal here.

Lo baak gou: Shredded radish mixed with rice flour and flavored with ham, shrimp, or other vegetables, then pressed into cakes and fried. Called turnip cakes as well. Commonly found in all Dim Sum places, you can read more about enjoying a Dim Sum meal here.

Sichuan style fish: This dish is literally fire in a bowl. The Sichuan peppers are explosive and you can feel your nostrils and mouth on fire, just after one bite. This dish is a Sichuan cuisine classic, fish and some veg, in a whole lot of oil, chili and other spices. You basically use your chopsticks to eat the fish, leaving the rest in the pot. To calm your insides, towards the end of the meal you will be served with some chilled watermelon, sweet custard like tofu and jelly.

Cauliflower in peppers and bacon: Another Sichuan classic, the vegetable is nice and crunchy and oozing with the bacon fat and heat from the peppers.

Grilled Tofu: Soft melt in the mouth tofu, fried and then covered in a sweet sauce and grilled on a skillet, this dish is another Cantonese favorite of mine. The tofu is so soft and served so piping hot, I burned my mouth many times for lack of patience 😀 . This is a must have for all vegetarians.

Potstickers: Classic Shanghai street food, these dim sums are first steamed, then grilled on a skillet on one side, to make it crunchy. The meat releases its juices which will scald your throat on the first bite. Still, it’s totally worth it.

Congee: A rice porridge popularly had for breakfast and cooked in chicken broth, topped with soy, onion, egg, this is a decently heathy breakfast and very easily available.

Steamed xiaolongbao or Soup Dumplings: Another Shanghai classic, a really thin skin, with a pork filling and steaming hot soup inside. Just imagine the level of skill needed to perfect these. The trick to eat is it to make a small hole in the dumpling, slurp drink the soup and then eat the dumpling.

Fried Pork chops: Tried this at a local’s recommendation at Wei Xiang Zhai in Shanghai and OMG! Crusty perfectly crisp pork chop, soft on the inside. The stuff of dreams I tell you.

Mussels: If you end up in a Cantonese restaurant, do try this if you are a seafood fan. Had them in Guangzhou and they were incredibly fresh, I am sure I could taste the ocean in them. Topped with a whole lot of garlic and chili. YUM!

Tofu cream: I really don’t know what this dish is called (sorry) but at a food court in Wenzhou, I saw big pots of soy milk boiling and the chef was removing the top layer that was cream. It was served in its natural form, with just a bit of soy. Tastes a lot of like cream but nuttier. A very unique dish and great to balance any spices you may be eating.

Baozi: This is basically a bao, a steamed bread like bun filled with all sorts of vegetarian or meat fillings. It’s a great snack on the go and perfect for breakfast.

Sesame paste noodles, vinegar and scallions: Another favorite from Wei Xiang Zhai in Shanghai, this is a dish locals swear by. Wheat noodles topped with hot sesame paste and chili oil with a few scallions thrown in, this dish is full of substance and flavor.

Zongzi: Very commonly available street food, this is glutinous rice with meats cooked and wrapped in bamboo or any other large flat leaf. It can be stored and frozen for months so is easily available at train stations where they will just steam the Zongzi and serve you on the go.

Lai wong bau: Bao dough stuffed with an eggy milk custard and steamed. Sweet and perfect to end your meal with.

Have you visited China? If so, did you love the food as much and what were your favourite dishes?


What to Know Before You Go to China!

It’s a massive understatement to say that I want to go back to China. I am actually DYINGGG to go back to China! I spent three weeks last year and felt that I could barely scratch the surface of this massive, intense and complex country.  Having visited a few other non-English speaking countries was by no means any preparation for the language barrier I experienced in China. I was also fresh off a month of a vegan diet before my trip and was keen to reduce my meat intake but China was definitely not the right country for that resolve. Plus, a lack of access to social media and google proved frustrating on many occasions. BUT, it was still an incredible experience and one that I would jump to do again. I met some amazing people, ate ginormous amounts of food, which was totally unlike the “Chinese food” that I was used to, saw some wonderful towns and cities and experienced the fantastic infrastructure which I would have never believed  possible in a country that size.

So below is a list I created, of things I think every first time visitor to China should know. It won’t take away your struggles entirely, but it can ensure that you prepare yourself and don’t lose unnecessary time figuring things out while there.

Here goes –

Dealing with the Great Chinese Firewall

No social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. work in China and while this may not be a show stopper for many, if you are a borderline addict(who isn’t ?), prepare yourself for a social media detox. If this doesn’t bother you, then great, you have nothing to worry about 😉 .  While I was aware of this before my trip, I found the first few days hard. I guess it was just something I was so used to and took for granted. It got easier by the second week and I quite enjoyed being disconnected.

No Google – This was a huge problem for me, especially because I needed to check my Gmail for some important messages and even more importantly, needed google maps for navigation. Totally sucked!

When I visited last year, you could still get yourself a VPN and override the Great Firewall but as per this article published in the Guardian in July 2017, there have been talks that China will block all VPNs in 2018.

Let’s talk English

This is definitely the biggest barrier for a traveler and adds another dimension to the complexity. My Airbnb host told me that while Chinese kids start learning English in elementary school, it’s not widely used in daily conversation so over time, the control on the language fades. Hence, most people remember some of it and hardly use it hence are extremely uncomfortable to hold a conversation in English. She gave me a great tip – if you get lost somewhere, or are in any situation where you need a translator, your best bet it to look for a young person who could be a student, as their English skills will be most refined and they can likely help you out.

Chat on WeChat

It’s not just a chatting app but a lifestyle app and solution to everything in China. It’s got chatting like WhatsApp, shopping, a payment interface, a social media platform and so much more. Everyone is on WeChat in China (~900 million people use it) and it really was the most convenient platform to communicate digitally.

Food is incredible for meat eaters BUT….

I am a foodie, and have a limited barrier to trying out new things but even then I was challenged a fair bit in China, specifically if I wanted to eat vegetarian or not eat certain types of meat. Of the places I visited, except for Shanghai, I found menus written fully in Chinese and no one on the staff who spoke enough English to understand my preferences. So unless you have a local host or anyone with you who speaks the language, know that eating out will be tricky for the most part.  Most menus have photos of the dishes so you order by eye and make sure that you have a language translation app and data on you at all times.

This was largely fun for me but I know that it can be extremely painful if you have dietary restrictions of any kind. If you are a vegetarian, it can be a massive struggle to be honest.


Chopsticks aren’t for everyone

While we are talking food, let me share with you a deceptively minor seeming matter and that is Chopsticks. Most local restaurants will not give you a spoon or fork and you will need to eat with Chopsticks. I struggled. BADLY 😦 . In fact it pissed me off when I was hungry and struggling to hold on to the food on my chopsticks. I swear I just wanted to use my hands! It’s an art to eat food on Chopsticks, and you will get better with practice surely. But I would advise you to carry some disposable forks and spoons for the initial meals.

Make Ctrip your friend for booking inter country travel

Having been used to Skyscanner, Kayak and the likes, I struggled to get the right tickets and costs on these sites for travels within China. Then I was introduced to Ctrip. And that was that – an end to my woes. Ctrip is a Chinese travel company and you can use it to book any ticket – rail, air, bus or even accommodation (I didn’t do that). The site is in English (Thank God) and they have an app – all easy to use and very efficient. You don’t need to look further.

Public transport

This is a huge plus considering how massive China is. The train network is incredible and works to the second and once you get the hang of it, it is an extremely enjoyable experience. I took many trains in Guangzhou, Wenzhou, Ningbo, Yuyao and it was fantastic to see the level of connectivity even to smaller towns. Extremely impressive. But what takes it to another level is getting a ride on the Maglev train  from Longyang Road Station to the Pudong International Airport Shanghai – the train reaches a maximum speed of 431km/hr and you really feel like you are time travelling when you whiz past the traffic on the road. The train is built more as an experience for travelers but it is a must must do, even if you don’t need to be on that route. It costs 50 yuan per person and less than 8 mins.

So that’s it!

I hope you found this list useful if you are planning to go see a bit of China. It’s a fascinating country to visit and can be a very unique experience if one is willing to keep an open mind and have a spirit for some adventure.



So long Guangzhou!

I met S outside her apartment building in Guangzhou, where she was waiting to handover the keys to us. I was surprised when she greeted me with the excitement of a long lost friend. We had never met in person, but had had a fleeting interaction on Skype, if I can even call it that. The Mr. had stayed in S’s apartment a few times on previous work trips, and she had expressed an interest in knowing about me. At dinner one evening with S and her husband, she insisted that I be Skyped that very moment. It was a brief call, in between a noisy dinner table full of food at a Cantonese restaurant. I could hardly hear anything, but her enthusiasm was evident even then.

She took us to her apartment and showed us around the artistic house, her pride obvious. The cozy two bedroom in a modern sky rise building overlooked the Pearl River and had an airy and comfortable feel. It was probably the most well-kept Airbnb I had ever stayed in, and when I mentioned this to S, she beamed like a proud parent. She offered to take me around the city and I said happy to say yes. We decided to meet the next day in the afternoon, as her morning was busy with a family get together called Ching Ming.  When I asked what that was, S explained that it was an annual ritual to pay respect to the dead in the family. I know it sounds morbid that I was keen to observe the ceremony, but I did not feel comfortable asking S so I kept quiet.

The next morning after breakfast, I decided to head to Shangzxajiu street, the very busy and commercial town center. I took the metro, which was surprisingly easy to figure out and super-efficient. At 1pm, S messaged me on WeChat that she was on her way to meet me and asked me my whereabouts. Thirty minutes later she found me, and I was glad, as Shangzxajiu hadn’t caught my interest particularly. It was noisy and touristy, and there wasn’t much to do around. “I take you to another place”, she said.

We headed to Dongshan and I was immediately taken in by the beautiful neighborhood, full of multi-storey mansions with terraces and gardens, many of which were converted to art galleries and cafes. S explained that the houses were built by Chinese expats after returning home, hence the houses had a strong international influence. We entered one of the houses and explored the art gallery on the ground floor, before finding our way to the terrace where we decided to catch a break and get a drink. “Would you like to have coffee?” I asked S.  Only tea, she said and launched into an explanation of the different types of Chinese tea, their benefits and its significance in the Chinese culture. Tea was the drink of choice, at all places and all times and the similarity to India wasn’t lost on me, though we have our own variation with milk, sugar and spices. I decided to share tea with her and she promised to take me to some special places where I could purchase teas to take back home.

Over the next few days, we met many times – sometimes to explore markets, take a walk or just get a meal. I found S to be a great companion in a city whose language I did not speak. She was curious and interested but never overbearing and pushy. She was pleasant to be around and thoughtful in many ways. For someone like me who thrives on my own private space and the need to be independent while travelling, she was a great match and easy to adjust with.

S and I were having lunch one day at a Cantonese restaurant close to the apartment. The place was full of people and noise, a very typical meal time scenario anywhere in China. Food is a national passion, and meal times are sacred. Since the menu was in Chinese but had pictures (which is very common), I made some suggestions by eye and insisted that S order for the both of us.  She told me that it was the norm to eat out a lot, as meals are complex to cook at home and eating out was fresh and inexpensive. When they had people over, they would create a meal but it was a lot of effort as it was always elaborate.

Over food, S and I spoke of many things. She told me she had two Airbnb’s in the city and she loved renting it out to international people, as she wanted to meet and interact with cultures from different parts of the world. “It is not just about giving my house, I want to know more of the world through the people I meet” she said. I was curious to know if all guests had a similar level of enthusiasm to let her into their life and she gave me a knowing smile. “I don’t interfere if people don’t want”, she said.

She was curious to know about Amsterdam, where I worked.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“I love it”, I said and she gave me a wry smile.

She hadn’t been to Europe but was keen to go soon. Since her husband wasn’t as crazy about travel as she was, plans were always hard to make. I found it incredible that she possessed such an understanding of people, cultures, behaviors and the world, despite not seeing any of it. As I am fully knowing of the fact that not all those who travel far and wide learn anything from it.

She asked me how long I was married and I said 5 years.

“No kids?” she asked.

“No kids”, I said.

What about you. I asked. “Same”, said S and we smiled.

Her husband worked in a startup and kept busy hours. They had been married a few years and had been living in Guangzhou for quite some time. Her family wasn’t too far away, and her father-n-law lived very close by.  We discussed aspects of society, culture, family and relationships in our respective countries and realized the strong points of intersection in our own thoughts and ideals.

We finished the meal and she told me that she would take me to the most beautiful store I had laid my eyes on. We reached a mall, packed on a weekday afternoon and went to a huge store selling everything from furniture to arts, crafts, crockery, gifts, candles and homeware. It was stunning. And expensive. I didn’t want to buy anything but we both spent a lot of time just looking at things. Picking up a piece here, admiring it and then putting it back. I could see that S had a love for beautiful things and a keen eye for art. Her home was an exact reflection of that. She told me she came to this store often just to browse around.

As we were heading out, we passed a store selling traditional Chinese dresses.

And then something crazy happened.

S caught hold of my arm and squealed excitedly, “Let’s put you in a traditional Chinese dress”.  I wasn’t really keen but S and her enthusiasm did me in. We entered the store and S approached two girls standing at the billing counter. I couldn’t understand a word of what they spoke but I could see that S was explaining that I wanted to try on a dress. One of the girls eyed me up and down and started pulling out dresses from a rack. I picked out a few that I liked, very sure that none of them would fit me as they were definitely made for XXXS sizes. I tried them on, one after the other, my cheeks getting redder with each dress, both because of the cramped changing room and the humiliation of literally bursting out in every piece. The girls got out bigger sizes for each dress and finally I found something that didn’t look totally ridiculous. S demanded that wear the highest heels in the shop and pose while she clicked photos. I looked terrible, but S wouldn’t hear of it.

I think it took me one full day to get over my embarrassment.

On our last night in Guangzhou, the Mr. and I went out for a farewell dinner with S and her husband. They took us to one of their most frequented Cantonese places, a cuisine which I had grown to love in my short time there. The food was brilliant – we had stir fried bok choy, a variety of dim sums, mussels, silky sizzling tofu and pork. After dinner, the couple decided to walk us back to our apartment. Over promises to see each other soon and keep in touch on WeChat, we said our goodbyes.

I haven’t been in touch with S since then though I think of my time in China often and hope to go back soon. Maybe that’s the nature of travel. You meet people and connect at a certain moment in time, and then you move ahead in your own direction. I hope though that ours intersects again sometime.


A Guide to Enjoying a Dim Sum meal in Hong Kong like a Pro

A guide? For a Dim Sum meal? Whaat! How hard can going to a restaurant and ordering a meal be? I must have lost my marbles, you think. But I have not dear reader 🙂 . This is valuable insight, gained over half a dozen meals, feelings of being lost and looking like an utter fool. Believe me when I say that a Dim Sum meal is more than just another meal, it is a ritual, and a slightly complex one at that. There are steps to it, flowing seamlessly from one to the other which may not seem like much if you have experience, but for a novice, it can be confusing as hell. More so if your place of choice is a traditional one, where no one may speak English or have the time to guide you.

We stood outside the door of Fresco Dim Sum at Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, eyeing the life size menu covering the restaurants exterior, while patiently awaiting our turn to be seated. A family came out, and in we went, moving past the noise and business of tiny tables placed so close, that you really couldn’t tell one from the other.

We found our spot, a table for three and adjusted ourselves into the cramped space. A waitress placed a large pot of tea, saucers, cups, a large bowl and chopsticks in front of us, without saying a word. The big bowl in the middle made no sense and I gave a “I am lost here” look. Accompanied by a friend from Hong Kong and the mister who had done this previously, I was happy for them to take over and be a silent observer.

And then it began, the ritual.

The cleaning of all utensils. You pour the tea into your cup and bowl and twirl it around, then discard the tea into the main bowl(Ah, so that bowl HAD a purpose 😉 ). You can pour tea over your plate and chopsticks holding it above the main bowl. Once everyone has cleaned their utensils, you pour tea into the cups to drink, first fill everyone else’s cup and then yours. The tea is to be enjoyed with the Dim Sum, and is to be refilled regularly throughout the meal.

What is the Dim Sum really?

It’s bite sized food to be had with tea, like the Spanish Tapas, just with tea instead of alcohol. Traditionally served as small bites in tea houses, the modest Dim Sum has evolved into a meal experience in itself called as Yum Cha, which literally means “drinking tea”.

Dim Sums can be steamed(mostly), friend or baked. Vegetarian and meat based. Sweet and Savory. There are no rules to order one type before the other. In fact, it is perfectly fine to order a sweet dim sum in between the meal.

How to best enjoy a Dim Sum meal?

People and time are essential in my view.

Go in a group so that you can order a lot of variety and sample different things. If you are travelling solo, I would really recommend looking for a food tour to make the most of your experience.

This is not a meal to be rushed or had on the go. It’s the sort of meal which is comforting, with people, conversation and food.

What to expect in a Dim Sum restaurant?

It really depends on the sort of place you go to. The one I mention here is a local place, cramped, loud and busy. The menu had an English translation, because this was Kennedy Town, Hong Kong. Otherwise go with Eenie Meenie Miny mo and cross your fingers 😉 .

Don’t expect perfect hygiene, table linen and cutlery. If that’s not your cup of tea, pick the more upmarket places.

As soon as you are seated, tea and utensils will be placed on your table, which need to  be rinsed with tea to take off any traces of grease, as I have shared earlier.

Chopsticks are the way to go but if you are not used to them, I would really recommend carrying a packet of plastic forks in your bag. Over multiple meals and practice, using chopsticks becomes easier but if you are new to it, imagine the frustration of trying to pick up a piece of food and dropping in five times before it lands in your mouth. Ask me. Just not worth it.

If you need a refill of hot water for the tea, just let the lid hang by the side and someone will come and refill it. Don’t shout at the top of the lungs for water, it’s likely no one will understand 😉 .

Order is to be made on a paper form, where you can tick what you want. In many restaurants, ladies will go around with carts of steaming dim sums and stop at your table and take the lid off the basket. If you like what you see, go for it.

Show your thanks to the server when they refill your pot of tea, or to the people you are eating with if they fill your cup by tapping the middle and index finger twice together on the table, as a show of thanks.

And that’s it. Thank me now 😀 .

The Dim Sums I loved (Honestly I could kill for these)

The variety is ginormous and I tried a lot over six meals and different places. I am sharing the ones I absolutely loved and would recommend you to try.


Har gou(Right Most): Steamed Shrimp dumplings, delicate and flavorful.

Siu mai(Top Left): Ground pork, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, wrapped in thin wheat dough and seasoned with Chinese rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Lo baak gou(Middle): Shredded radish mixed with rice flour and flavored with ham, shrimp, or other vegetables, then pressed into cakes and fried. Called turnip cakes as well.

Untitled collage

Cheong fan(Top): Fresh steamed rice noodles with a variety of fillings, mostly beef, shrimp, or pork. Drizzled with a sweet soy sauce.

Haam sui gau(Bottom Right): Deep-fried glutinous rice dumpling with pork.

Cha siu bao(Bottom Left): Steamed barbecue pork-stuffed buns.

Lo mai gai(Not in photo, very popular as street food also): Steamed sticky rice flavored with chicken, mushrooms, sausage, served in a lotus or banana leaf.

Fung zao: Fried steamed chicken feet. It’s considered a delicacy, but I just did not have the heart to try.Untitled collage (1)

Lai wong bau(Top): Bao dough stuffed with an eggy milk custard and steamed.

Ma lai go(Bottom): Soft, eggy, steamed sponge cake.

Do fu fa: Soft, silken tofu served with a ginger or plain sugar syrup.

Dim Sum is definitely one of my most favorite foods ever. Would love to know if you have been to a Dim Sum place and what your experience was like.


The pain of visiting an Indian hill station on a long weekend – experiences from Kasauli

The walk to town wasn’t a hard one, but it was different this time, and not in a positive way. My dream of enjoying a long, peaceful stroll in the hills was shattered with the constant blaring of horns and the long line of cars, leaving very little space for a pedestrian. Suddenly in the standstill traffic, I see a window roll down and out comes a hand throwing a plastic bag down the hilly slopes. I approached the mall road and the situation was worse. There were too many cars and not enough parking spots. The police tried to turn back the cars, but I saw that many drivers were unwilling to listen hence creating a bottleneck.

I walked further to visit the shops I always do and get my supplies, but there was barely any space to walk around without getting jostled. A lot more restaurants had opened up. The shops were all full. Business was booming it seemed. The street was littered with plastic bottles, wrappers, cans and empty packets of chips. I picked my supplies quickly and decided to head back.

We met a taxi driver, known to us for over a decade. He mentioned that peak season was madness, a two km ride took him forty-five minutes or more, because there were too many visitors and everyone wanted to park at the mall road, clogging the one route to it for hours. People got frustrated at the traffic they themselves caused, and ended up getting aggressive on the road, shouting and constantly honking, he smiled sadly. He had decided not to drive around this time of the year, letting go of his livelihood.
A home-stay owner shared a similar story – visitors often came just for the weekend, driving from close by places without prior booking, assuming that they will get a place to stay for the night. There are limited hotels and home stays in the town, though the number is increasing every year. But people turn up nevertheless, only to get agitated when they don’t find a place, adding to the overall chaos in town. There is demand, so a lot of construction is coming up, not all of it regulated.

I have been to Kasauli many times over the last decade – the luxury of a family cottage and a reasonable distance from Delhi has meant a lot of spontaneous trips and memories over the years. It’s a town I have come to love, as it always felt like home. Until this trip. It’s been two years, but I realized how much can change in that time.

Two days later we headed back to Delhi and left very early to avoid traffic. We had a frustrating time reaching Kasauli due to heavy traffic from Panchkula onwards. From Dharampur to Kasauli was completely choked as well but we took an alternate route, thankfully one that still isn’t well known and saved a couple of hours. Since we left really early on the way back, we took the main route crossing Dharampur and Parwanoo and I saw the massive landslide that had happened a week back and was covered in all national dailies, cutting off all connectivity to the hills, including food and supplies that the locals depend on. The landslide has been attributed to the excessive rains, and the cutting of hills to make a four lane road. Hills that are fragile and vulnerable and obviously unable to stand the impact of massive construction.

What is depressing is that this isn’t the story of one hill station – Mussoorie, Nainital, Shimla and many more, which were synonymous with summer holidays for 90s kids in northern India, they are all struggling with a massive influx of visitors and commercialization. A close friend recently did the Triund trek and while they enjoyed the experience, they couldn’t help feeling disappointed by the garbage strewn throughout the trek, even by selfie clicking educated youngsters.

I write this post because I feel sad. And angry. It is beyond me to make sense of why we are so callous about our own country and how easily we turn a blind eye to our own unconsciousness. How we don’t realize the value of what we have in this beautiful, diverse country of ours and how we don’t understand that it WILL NOT last forever.

Tourism is a great thing, it can boost local economy, create livelihoods and enable development. But it needs to be sustainable. Especially areas that are fragile, have limitation of resources and run the risk of collapse, if there are no check points. What’s the point of development if it is actually leading to destruction, I wonder?
Maybe the government will care enough to regulate, maybe it will be too late by then. Till then, pick up that plastic bottle and throw it in the closest bin.

I visited Kasauli, a tiny hill station in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh, during the Independence Day long weekend. Do you love the hills too? And have you visited any hill station during peak season? What were your experiences? Please do share more in the comments section.

The alternate world in Copenhagen’s backyard – Freetown Christiana

I chugged along on my bicycle, occasionally stopping to take a quick look at the map on my phone till I could see the entrance to Christiana. I turned to B, who was right behind me and with a quick nod of agreement, we decided to a few more minutes of cycling till we were officially “outside of the European union” and inside Christiana.

We found a good spot to park our bicycles and decided to walk around. As history goes, Freetown Christiana was established in 1971 by a group of hippies, who broke down barricades to an abandoned military base and eventually built a society, with its own rules, laws, currency, completely independent of the Danish government and “considered outside of it”. Over the years, this community built houses, workshops and cafes, experimented with green building techniques, solar energy and water-treatment systems to reduce their ecological footprint. Many small businesses flourished and the place attracted artists and musicians, free thinkers who found it a haven. In 1973, the government gave Christiana the temporary status of a “social experiment” which allowed the town to persist, and 16 years later with a majority vote in the parliament, this squat was made officially legal.

But can such a Utopian world really sustain?

YES, there are over 900 people living in the town today, many of them third generation.

As we walked around, we saw these houses and sheds and murals and art and boutiques. There was even a community center and a movie theater. Residents were out and about, sitting on their porch, walking their dogs and just going about their daily business.

We were distracted by a sound, a woman’s voice but coming from a speaker. Intrigued, we followed the sound, to be led to a large garden in which a huge crowd had gathered. Everyone had a green balloon in their hand, those who didn’t were offered one by the volunteers. The woman on the mike was asking more people to join in, to what exactly was unclear to us. As we got closer to the crowd, a lady approached me and offered a balloon. I asked her what it was for, she smiled sweetly and said something I couldn’t quite comprehend. I held on to my balloon, confused what to do with it. The woman on the mike suddenly began a countdown, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and shouted “Legalize Cannabis”, everyone released their balloons in the air and chanted the same, like a slogan. It felt strange and stupid to be standing there, taking a part in something that I had no reference point of and did not endorse. Why were these people fighting to legalize drugs, and what point of view did I have on it to stand there and release a balloon, for god’s sake. I felt disturbed.

B and I walked away and decided to get a coffee, we sat in a small café, quietly sipping our coffees, confused with what had just passed. As we got up to leave, we heard loud music on the street and came out to see people dancing and drinking, like it was a carnival. A few makeshift stalls had come up, out of nowhere, and we could see that they were selling cannabis. A tourist tried to click a photo, and immediately 2 men came from behind the stand and took his phone and I would presume, deleted the photos. You are not allowed to click pictures, specifically where the cannabis trade is done, its written everywhere on street signs in the town. Don’t ignore it.

We left this scene and walked around an area which was like a flea market, selling t-shirts, food, jewelry, crafts, and household items. I would hope it was all locally made, but knowing that Christiana is the second most popular tourist attraction while visiting Copenhagen, I can’t be sure if it is outside businesses making sunshine.

We reached our bicycles and decided to head back. It was an odd experience, but it felt like there was more to the place than what I saw in the afternoon, so I decided to do some research online. I learnt that Cannabis is still illegal in Denmark, however Christiana allowed for it since the beginning.  Since the town is a “Freetown”, the government tolerated it. Initially the trade was run locally and by small businessmen, but how long could bigger gangs keep away? The trade was too lucrative for that.

Raids have been conducted in Christiania many times to keep a check on drug sales on a street names Pusher Street but none got as violent as in 2016, when a police officer was injured by a gunshot.  The residents were upset and decided to have a meeting where it was unanimously decided to shut down Pusher Street. The current version of the trade is probably very small and patchy from used it used to be.

Since then, Copenhagen officials are trying to legalize cannabis so that the trade can be controlled effectively. The proposal has been rejected multiple times in the past. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess.

The internet is full of videos and articles from the residents, who claim to want to nurture and protect the spirit of Christiana, which is self-sustainable, free thinking and independent. Where everyone is equal and has a voice. Where the community is supreme. Where creativity is valued. Most express disappointment that the focus largely remains on the Cannabis trade, which they say is a part of the ecosystem but not the whole system itself.

The more I read about the place, the more I realized that my first encounter was a bit deceptive. I was a passerby in an ecosystem that I did not understand, and I found it comforting to paint everything with one stroke and generalize. The reality turns out to be far more complex. One can have an opinion on an ideology, and even disagreement with certain aspects of it, but it is incredible that a place like Christiana can exist and sustain itself for over 46 years.  What will its future be like, I am curious to know. But if only for its spirit, you should go see it – With an open mind.

A Laid-back Weekend in Copenhagen

One would wonder how a city break could be termed “laid-back” but that was the thing about Copenhagen. Its compact size and easy, relaxed vibe demanded slowing down and focusing on the good stuff – like a glass of wine, a bit of sunshine, a good book and a hearty meal. I felt out of place to rush and try and do too much and I was happy to meander wherever the city took me.

Copenhagen is easy on the eye, but not so much on the pocket. Paris has been my benchmark of an expensive city but Copenhagen beats that – the food, transport and hotels all come steep. But don’t let that discourage you, it is a beautiful city, friendly and cozy and you won’t leave it feeling dissatisfied.


We rented an Airbnb in the very hip Norrebro district, with great public transport connectivity and a wide selection of neighborhood bars, cafes, galleries and boutiques to browse through. Norrebro is a part of the city with its own distinct charm, youthful and bright.


Get a bike

It would be a pity to not cycle in a city made for cyclists 🙂 ( I also found Danes to be fairly patient on the cycling track). Be prepared for a hardcore workout though if you are riding against the winds as they can get very strong. As I discovered while uphill on a bridge with the wind against me, it was so difficult that for a moment I was literally standing on the pedals and the bike wouldn’t budge!

The Stunning Copenhagen Opera House

Colored houses at Nyhavn

Go on a walking tour

I clicked this picture because I was impressed with water and sky this blue 😉

If you are not sure on what to spend time on in a new city and prefer a quick browse first, a walking tour will be perfect for you. Most guides on these tours are very friendly and will be happy to share recommendations of places to explore, eat and things to do. I joined the Sanderman’s walking tour which started at the Town Hall Square and took us through the iconic Tivoli Gardens, Danish Royal Palace, Nyvahn Harbour, Amalienborg, The Marble Church, Copenhagen Opera House and more over two and half hours. The city is stunning on foot, with its canals and architecture and color.

Statue of Bishop Absalon, founder of the city of Copenhagen

Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center which was the former church of St. Nicolas

Bishop Absalon on the Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen City Hall

Marble Church

Visit Christiana

A “Freetown”, established in 1971, with its own currency and laws intrigued me enough to pay a visit. This town was built on the spirit of community living by squatters and artists and became somewhat a hippie commune. It’s got a bunch of art galleries, organic cafes, coffee shops and is home to nearly a thousand people today.  The place was busy with enough curious tourists. Around afternoon, some people started selling cannabis (photos not allowed), and suddenly there was loud music playing on the street and the residents came out to drink and dance. It was a unique and confusing experience for me (will share more in another post) but there is probably no place like this on earth, and for that you should pay it a visit.



The name had me and I was desperate to give this café a try. The breakfasts are quite popular but we didn’t make it in time hence we went for the lunch menu. We basically ate a whole lot of eggs – on top of avocado and with a stew of sausage and tomatoes along with an open chicken sandwich, a croissant and some wonderful coffee.

Mothers pizza

An Italian restaurant with a wood fired oven in the old meatpacking district, this restaurant has great food at decent prices by Copenhagen standards. We tried the Burrata, with vine tomatoes, rucola & of course gooey oozing burrata itself as the star of the show. We finished off with Panna cotta and candied orange.

Copenhagen Streetfood

This is a street food market, built in a warehouse across the harbor, serving local and fresh produce across a wide variety of cuisines. It has a cool, easy vibe and I absolutely loved this place. So much so, that we went here both nights for dinner. You basically browse the stalls, decide what you want and pay directly at each stall. There are a bunch of benches and chairs around on you can plonk yourself. If you do want to make sure you have a table, there is something called as The Greenhouse, where you can make a prior reservation for a table for 2 hours. The benefit is that there is a bar inside the Greenhouse and they serve you drinks on your table. Food is self serve, whether you eat here or outside. It’s open till 9pm all days and 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. The food and variety is amazing, prices are great too. Overall, a must visit!

That was all I packed in for a 3 days 2 nights trip. Have you been to Copenhagen and what were your favorites?


Stumbling upon Lawn Bowling in Lake District

Our 2 days in Lake District were laden with rains, which was frustrating enough and more so, considering that we drove from Loch Lomond in Scotland, and had to head back to Edinburgh to catch our return flight. Too confusing? The map below will help prove our rather navigationally challenged decision 😀 .

The lounge at Rydal Lodge where William Wordsworth enjoyed his drink

I sincerely wanted to like Lake District, so that it would make the decision to go there feel worthwhile and the distance covered irrelevant. I was utterly disappointed to find it torrentially rainy on Day 1 and while the property we stayed in was very vintage and pretty (Rydal Lodge), it didn’t do too much to uplift my limp spirit. On the second day the rains continued, and we were stuck indoors, waiting inside our small cozy rooms with a cup of tea and cookies, desperate for the rain to slow down. The weather took a turn for the better around afternoon, and we decided to head out to Windermere and explore the streets with a vengeance. We savored the fish and chips at The Little Chippy, explored shops and tiny boutiques, and tried the Award Winning meat pies at Huddleston’s Butchers and I thought to myself, this isn’t too bad after all. We have managed to do nothing extraordinary, but it’s SOMETHING. And then it dawned on us that two of us had gone missing(apparently, random loitering is not everyone’s cup of tea) and upon some investigation found out that they had stumbled upon something called Lawn Bowling at the Windermere Bowling club. Intrigued, the rest of us followed.




The prized pie

Pardon my ignorance but this was my introduction to the sport of Lawn Bowling.


img_1481We reached the club to find a large square-ish flat field, perfectly manicured and a bunch of people rolling balls like in a bowling alley. We decided to sign up as we had no other exciting plans for the day and were explained the rules of the game – the simplest version for us newbies. The area to play in was called the “Rink”. It was surrounded by the “Ditch”. There were multiple teams playing so each was told to pick a starting point in different directions of the field. There was a toss and the winner of each team rolled the ball called “Jack”. The sole purpose of the game is to roll balls closest to the Jack. Each member gets four tries, whoever comes closest or has more number of balls closest to the Jack is the winner. While it sounds fairly simplistic, we were told that the game has a lot of nuances and styles of scoring, even fields sometimes may not be flat. It was a first time experience for all of us and we were thrilled to be a part of it.

We spent a few hours enjoying the game. The veterans on the field helped us wherever they could. It consumed me – the fun of it, how unexpected it was, the focus and rush that playing any sport brings. And all I thought was of beating my opponent, didn’t care about the weather no more. But misery struck again and it started raining. We rushed inside a small shelter where we were served tea, coffee, cookies and conversation moved from what we were doing in the area and how we found the club to the cricketing antics of the Indian and English teams.

The rains continued and we headed back to our lodge, drenched and later went out for dinner to a bar nearby, ate and came back and it was still raining. Like I said, I didn’t find Lake District spectacular, maybe it was the weather (this was in August), maybe we didn’t know the best things to pick, maybe I expected too much.

I probably won’t give Lake District another shot. Maybe I will. Just for the bowling.


Photo Story : Highlights from Scotland

I spent 5 days in Scotland in August 2016, flying into Edinburgh and spending a day there, followed by two days each in Inverness and Loch Lomond. I came back feeling that I hadn’t seen enough. This was not any FOMO(fear of missing out) talking, but Scotland’s vast expanse, natural beauty, dramatic highlands and bustling cities had this effect, like there’s a lot more to explore, and a few days is just touching the tip of the ice berg. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time and am sharing below some pictures from the trip. Till I see ya again, Scotland!

Day 1

We flew into Edinburgh in the morning and checked into our Airbnb apartment. The day was spent exploring the streets of the city, eating, visiting the old town area and checking out bars in the historic Grassmarket.

Beautiful medieval architecture in the city center

Beautiful medieval architecture in the city center


Love a good looking window 🙂


Edinburgh ❤


Antics in old town (you will come across a lot of stuff like this!)

Day 2

We left for the three hour drive to Inverness in the morning. Driving around Scotland is spectacular and truly the best way to explore this country. We checked into our hotel, Premier Inn which was about 1.5 miles from the city center. We spent the day exploring the town and loved Hootanannys, a traditional Scottish pub with live music. If you get the chance, do eat at The Mustard Seed. We did not get a reservation for any meal while we were there but everyone recommended this restaurant highly.





Unfortunately we missed eating here, hence make a reservation in advance if you are visiting


Day 3

We decided to explore the Glen Ord distillery and Robertson’s farm. While we knew we wanted to visit one distillery for sure, the farm was a surprise find. It acted as the perfect stop for some coffee and homemade goodies on the way back from Glen Ord. I have done a separate post on this experience which you can check out here.

The Glen Ord distillery - one of the oldest in Scotland

The Glen Ord distillery – one of the oldest in Scotland


The store at Robertson’s farm


Day 4

We hit the road for Loch Lomond which was a three and a half hour drive from Inverness. On the way, we stopped at The House of Bruar and OMG, the food here was mindblowing! It was a very busy day because it was a Sunday. While we stopped only to eat, House of Bruar is actually an independant store selling Scottish country clothing. They house a self serve restaurant where we tried amazing soups, a sea food stew style dish, pasta, desserts and coffee – definitely some of the best food I had on this trip. Besides clothes, you can also buy fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, chocolate and homeware.


The restaurant





Rabbits? Squirrels? What!

After spending too much time in the House of Bruar, we reached Loch Lomond in the afternoon. We were hungry(again) and decided to go to the nearest town Balloch, for a bite. Balloch was a small cozy town, people were extremely friendly and we ended up spending our entire evening at a pub called The Dog House. Most pubs don’t serve food till late but the drinks continue. There was a pizza place right opposite this pub, problem solved 🙂 . You can read more about my experience at The Dog House here.

Day 5

We spent some time at the Loch Lomond shores, just lying on the grass and soaking in the sun. There are hordes of activities to try out here if you fancy that. People we met at The Dog House the night before suggested we take a walk to Dumpling Hill, which was a short hike but great views(we all had the damning realization that our fitness levels sucked as we were huffing and panting to the top, and believe me when I say that it was barely a hike). We also went to Luss, a beautiful tiny village on the western shore of Loch Lomond and ended the day with a meal at Duck Bay restaurant(beautiful views, fancy place and very highly rated, however I didn’t think much of the food, AND it was expensive).


Entrance to the Dumpling Hill


Views on the way


View from the top of the hill


Loch Lomond shores




Entrance to the church, Luss


Interesting crafts shop at Luss, very expensive though!


View of the loch from the shores of Luss


No pictures can do justice to how beautiful Luss was!

And so ended our short trip to Scotland. Have you ever visited Scotland and what were you favorite bits?

Recent Trip to India – My take on Annoying Stereotypes

I came back from India yesterday after a 3 week trip and an overload of festivity, food and socializing. I had a fabulous time, barring the toxic Delhi air, which was unbearable. Since this visit came nearly after a year, I was totally pumped about catching up with friends and family. And while I tried to restrict socializing to my closest circle (which is quite a mammoth task in India), I invariably ended up meeting some people that I could have very well avoided :-D. The good part is, my interactions gave me some interesting fodder and I decided to do a post on the most absurd things people said to me which had me laughing.

P.S. This is intended to be a fun, humorous post.

You must be thinking “Oh My Gawd, so much pollution”

Not only me you idiot, but everybody in Delhi was thinking the same. Anybody who had a choice was trying to get out of the city for a few days or stay indoors to the extent possible, schools were shut, people were wearing masks, it was pretty bad. Anyway, when I said “Yes there is a lot of pollution this time in Delhi”, this person says “You are such a firangi (foreigner)” :-).

Why do you care about spending money, you earn in Euros

Because it’s hard earned, and I spend that money on running a house and my livelihood and everything else that I feel like. I will do what I want to with it, thank you very much.

You must be used to cooking meals and cleaning up after yourself. My God, so much work, I could never do it.

What a loss for humanity, you little elitist a**.

How come you don’t have an accent

Me baffled “Why Should I?”

I am sure that you don’t want to come back.

Really? How do you? I never knew another human being could be SO sure of my thoughts, decisions and future, some super power that is ;-). But on a serious note, I heard this a lot, and it made me realize people look at being abroad with a rose tinted lens, and while it comes with certain advantages, it obviously has it’s own set of challenges. If you didn’t already know, NOTHING IS PERFECT.

Oye Firangi(foreigner), why are you stopping at a red light?

I never jumped red lights even earlier, ever. Apparently, it is now a “firangi” trait.

I love my family, I can never stay abroad

I am sure other countries must be shedding tears of disappointment today!

Do you live/have ever lived outside of India? What are the funny, annoying, ridiculous things you hear back home that make you laugh and cringe?