Broke in Paris || Long overdue episodes of TabassumTrails ||

It has been two years now since my trip to Paris. All these days I had been writing and rewriting this post and still don’t know if this is the right way to put up what I experienced. Here goes nothing.

Disclaimer: This is a personal story. It has no travel tips, no budget talk, no what-to-dos. Please feel free to stop reading here if travel advisory is what you are looking for.

Paris started out on a quite sour note for me and those few days have definitely left a mark on my life. It was not the most picturesque trip nor was it how I had dreamt it to be. I woke up on a very early morning train. It was a triple tier 8’ by 6’ room with 6 of us in it (things we do to save money!) Yes, it was stuffy and I could see my travel partner was agitated. We caught up with some breakfast on the train. With a croissant, some orange juice topped with a good amount of argument and a terrible fight, our train swayed through the Parisian suburbs. We finally stopped at the Gare de Lyon station.

Stepping out of the train, I wanted more than ever to be alone and away from the people around me. This was the last leg of our trip and we were almost broke. My fellow ADULT travel companions had aptly put all the blame on me for our current situation. Tired of all the arguments, I decided to stay mum for a while and just let the day pass. Sadly this wasn’t just any day. It was a day in a city I always dreamt of visiting and I couldn’t just  “let it pass”.

Paris metro is very complicated and for people like us from a country where there are no metro networks it is rather difficult to decipher the correct route. An old gentleman was kind enough to guide us to St. Denis where our friend’s apartment was and generously invited us to stay.

St Denis looked very chilled out. Another surprise for this skinny Asian – it was COLD and I was not prepared. We asked around with the address and walked deeper into the neighbourhood. A Pakistani guy came to us and insisted he would take us to the place we are looking for. While I was, of course, very grateful for his generosity, his weird comments were the last thing I wanted to hear. He smirked at us and said, “I know how you came here. Everyone comes through the Bilal bhai.” His allegations based on our brown skin were, perhaps, normal. But this was a first for me and I was clearly annoyed to be assumed as an illegal migrant. Not wasting time explaining to him, we searched through the Rue’s and arrived at our destination. I was more than happy to see the helpful stranger leave.

         IMG_20160603_173239-01.jpeg IMG_20160602_204852-01.jpeg

The apartment was beautiful. Small and cozy – just what I would want if I would ever have a place to myself. We freshened up quickly. My fellow travelers were tired and my feet too itchy to go outside already. While they took a quick nap, I set out to explore the neighbourhood a little (or perhaps the Champ de Mars).

Out again in the neighbourhood, I was greeted in Hindi and Urdu while passing through the alleys. The metro strike was still on and I was not allowed to board a train. Strolled across the streets, shopped a little for home and was back to the apartment soon to see our host was back home. The evening was spent catching up on old friendships and stories we shared.

Almost when the sun was setting, we finally stepped out to explore Paris, to see Paree by the night. Our host is probably one of the most notorious person I know, a dear friend since his time in Bangladesh. He is all about bending rules and living every moment. A brilliant photographer and humanitarian this southern French guy was the perfect company to tear Paris apart. He was as ecstatic to have us as we were to be there. He wanted to take us somewhere that is special to him, but even asking a thousand times he did not tell us where we are going. It’s a surprise! We were out and about, blindly trusting and following our friend.

Transportation in Paris is expensive. We didn’t have enough days in hand to buy a metro card nor did we have enough money to spend on each ride. Yes, we were that broke. But Arnaud had all the tricks up his sleeves. Now this post is a very personal post of solely my experience. All decisions were our own and this should not give you the idea to do the same. YOU SHOULD NOT! WE WERE BROKE, YOU ARE NOT!

As we walked into the metro station, Arnaud quickly rushed us away from the ticket counter and towards the platforms. I was confused, how are we going to the metro without a ticket? He pushed open the doors by force that would otherwise open only when it detects a ticket. And before I could protest or say no, I was through. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon in Europe but every other young person was either jumping over the detector, sliding under it or pushing it open, like we did. No tickets, a major law broken. Now I am not a goody-two-shoes but breaking a law that could get me a fine of 60 Euros (or even prison in another country) was not a joke. I was shitting my pants. Moving on from the morbid thoughts, we hopped on a train. As I looked out through the windowpanes, seeing the outside change again from suburbs to higher denser skylines, I caught a glimpse of the peak of a very familiar metal tower. My eyes transfixed as the Eiffel Tower quickly disappeared into the changing horizon.

Off the metro, as we walked through sloped cobbled roads with picturesque buildings on both sides, the place seemed oddly familiar. We started climbing up what seemed like a never ending flight of steps; I knew where we were. The Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was waiting for us at the end of the ginormous steps. Illuminated with bright lights at the base the basilica looked no less than a visual from one of those mythological movies.

IMG_20160602_223354-01.jpeg
SAW THIS. JAW ON THE FLOOR.

As if the Romano-Byzantine stone basilica wasn’t jaw dropping enough, we turned the opposite way to see the whole of Paris before our eyes. A beautifully lit aerial view of the entire city of love and standing out were the ever familiar landmarks, even from such distance. What made it more special and why this view will forever be embedded on my mind is the drizzling rain and my partner trying to be cute. i will always remember that puppy face and warm smile that always made me forget every bitter thing that happened and my heart skip a beat. It’s been a while now, been a while since.

IMG_20160602_225102-01.jpeg

The alcohol level in blood was rising, the temperature was falling and the night got crazier when we arrived at the plaza in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral to meet Arnaud’s girlfriend. More rules were broken at this point including one more ticket-less ride and the boys peeing on the hedges. My mood at this point was way better and I almost forgot what happened earlier that morning. My Parisian holiday didn’t have the tours, the perfect pictures, the beautiful dresses or Instagramable photos, but right at that moment it felt perfect, full of life and laughter.

We drank more, laughed more while walking on the streets of Paris, along the river Seine – hand in hand with someone who mattered then.

IMG_20160603_014235-01.jpeg
BEAUTIFUL SIENE
IMG_20160603_014431-01.jpeg
THAT’S ME ROLLING ON THE LOVE LOCK BRIDGE LAUGHING

I don’t remember when or how we got home. The last memory I had is seeing a blindingly lit Tour Eiffel suddenly becoming dark and quiet. In those wee hours of night, the metro was shut already and Solanne threw up a fist fight for not walking a single step more. Our equally broke host hauled an Uber, probably paid it with his budget for the entire week and got the 5 drunken tired bodies back to the apartment at St. Denis.

The next morning should have started earlier but the hungover heads could not make it through the early hours. It was our last day in Paris and there was still lots to do. Breakfast had freshly baked croissants and pastry – minimal, budgety yet yum! Arnaud decided to skip school to take us around. Can’t thank him enough for everything he did for us and for, more than anything, his infectious positivity and generosity. How we spent the rest of the day are better explained with photos. Read the captions – these were major bucket-list moments for me.

IMG_20160603_154439-01.jpeg
STOOD AT THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF THE BUSIEST STREETS OF PARIS, CHAMPS DE ELYSEE AND TOOK THIS!
IMG_20160603_153735-01.jpeg
DANCED AROUND THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE
IMG_20160603_142406-01-01.jpeg
SAW TOUR EIFFEL FROM A DIFFERENT SIDE. ALMOST ZERO TOURIST
IMG_20160603_145428-2.jpeg
THE QUEUE WAS TOO LONG TO GO UP THE TOWER AND I WAS TOO BROKE TO CLIMB IT
IMG_20160603_010947-02.jpeg
MY DA VINCI CODE MOMENT. PITY LOUVRE WAS FLOODED AND MONA LISA NOW HAS TO AWAIT MY NEXT VISIT

Honestly this is not how had imagined my Paris visit to be. All I said to myself was being broke is definitely not the best feeling in the world and on a foreign land it can get rather scary. But that should not AT ALL come in the way of my explorations. I was in a new country: places I hadn’t seen before, streets I didn’t explore yet, food I didn’t taste and people I did not meet. An empty pocket should never make you regret your decision to explore. And I did the same. All that I thought was I won’t get to come back… this was my chance. It wasn’t perfect  but I am more than grateful to have this experience in my dairy now. More than anything, this helped me grow as a person.

The choice of visiting Paris has perhaps cost me dearly. However, I will forever yearn to go back one day and complete my trip. Till then Je t’aime Paree.

IMG_20160603_144404-01-01.jpeg

FOLLOW ME
INSTAGRAM TabassumTrails
FACEBOOK  TabassumTrails

Advertisements

HALONG BAY, THE CHEAPER WAY | Long overdue episodes of TabassumTrails |

We, as complete different individuals, all have our own preference, perspectives and processes. And that is only a beauty of the human race. The same thing applies when we are planning our trips. Either we squeeze in everything possible in an itinerary of 3 days or lay low and actually absorb the place for weeks. Some of us can afford beautiful hotels with pools and a rooftop bar, some of us sweat to see how far that $100 can take us. I, the broke impulsive wannabe backpacker, am always looking for cheaper alternatives but, at the same time, am very conscious about actually living the experience to the fullest too.

So what did I do for Halong Bay in Vietnam? One of the 7 natural wonders of the world was bound to be expensive and it is. But that should not and did not stop me from seeing it and experiencing it, also within A BUDGET. This blog-post is not a guide of how-tos rather a way to opening up options for more people like me who are short of cash but full of wanderlust.

Halong Bay – no it’s not similar or even close to James Bond Island in Thailand. Please don’t compare and don’t miss out on it only because you have seen similar landscapes. Trust me when I say this – you haven’t seen anything like this. Ever. The vastness, the endlessness and the calmness is so overpowering. It makes anything seem small. I was in Vietnam shortly after (or rather while) going through a very rough patch of my personal life and one thing Halong Bay made me realise is that we, the human beings, and our problems are really insignificant. There is so much more in the nature, so much bigger and more beautiful than us. We have no reason to put ourselves on pedestals. We are just a pebble and there is a whole lot more to appreciate in the world.

IMG_20170511_154207_708

I am not gonna make you read any description on Halong Bay which you can already find on the web. Here are some I read. Feel free to skim through it if you wish:

Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one tourism hub. – Lonely Planet

At Hanoi you will notice every other hotel, hostel and travel agency will push you to buy a tour of the majestic Halong Bay. Trust me when I say this they are good with the pitching and in no time you will end up buying a tour for something between $100 to $300. I highly recommend you to avoid these organized overpriced tours. If you are not a fan of overcrowded places like Bai Chay, i.e. Halong Bay City (where you will end up going with the overpriced tour) follow what we did and save yourself from getting ripped off. Go to Cat Ba Island – UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, less touristy, lesser crowd, cheaper, but equally beautiful. Here’s what we did.

HANOI TO HAI PHONG TO CAT BA (BUS+BOAT+BUS)

My friend Tas and I took a bus ride from Hanoi to Haiphong, one of the port cities of Vietnam. From Haiphong we were transferred to Cat Ba island via a jetty and then a small tourist bus. This whole one way transfer cost us $10 and took 4 hours. Your hostel/hotel can get it booked for you. We reached Cat Ba island in the afternoon and walked our way towards the hostel we booked. It’s a pedestrian friendly city with merely any vehicles. If you are coming from buzzing cities like Hanoi you might feel like your ears have popped. It’s super quiet, breezy & chilled out.

CAT BA ISLAND IN A GIST

ACTIVITIES IN CAT BA ISLAND
Cat Ba is the largest and the only inhabited island of Halong Bay with a small but vibrant tourist centre where all the hotels, restaurants and bars are at. Highlights of it are its cafes and boardwalk looking over at the Lan Ha Bay. Being one of its kind, this island although disconnected from the rest of the country has a lot to offer you. Following are a list of activities Cat Ba is known for:

  • Cát Bà National Park
  • Cannon Fort
  • Hospital Cave
  • Daylong tours of the Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay

WHERE TO STAY?
Tas and I quickly dropped our bags at our hostel, showered and made our way out to grab some lunch. Our hostel was Cat Ba Central Hostel where we stayed in mixed dorm of 20 people for $5 per night. It is a favorite property of most backpackers and offers free breakfast, spacious dorms and social spaces with good views. Great value for really low price, can be booked via Booking.com without pre-payment.

FOOD
Cat Ba is known for its fresh seafood and any meal can be easily shared by two people. The portions are generous. Don’t forget to try our favourite restaurants.

Tip: there are buy one get one free offers on drinks everywhere in the evening. Also free beer if you dine-in. 🙂

IMG_20170328_191450

$300 vs $30 TRIP OF HALONG BAY

Well actually it is $26. 30 just looked better with 300 😛
We booked our tour of Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay with a travel agency called Cat Ba Ventures who were just 10 min walk away from our hostel. It was a daylong tour from 8am to 5pm. The reason I recommend them highly is not only the well organized tour but also because of the helpful staff. They explained the entire tour in detail, helped us with figuring out our forward journey from Cat Ba.

At 8 am the next day, we arrived at their office again and left our luggage there. We were then taken to the Cat Ba port on a bus. They had two separate boats arranged – one for vegetarian guests and another for non vegetarians since this tour also included lunch.

Our boat sailed through Lan Ha Bay for more than two hours. I quickly captured the front lounge chair on the open deck. On both sides the scenes were changing from beautiful to jaw-droppingly beautiful and in front of us was infinite emerald.

We then stopped at this beautiful corner for some kayaking. Rows of yellow kayaks swam through the emerald waters, peeking in and out, through and under the massive limestone grottoes.

Lunch was served right after coming back from rounds of kayaking. This is inclusive in the tour package and any drink you want to have with this will have to be bought. It’s best to bring your own.

Right after lunch the boat entered into the borders of Halong Bay. The weather was not at its best. Misty and clouded, yet still breathtaking.

IMG_20170329_141437-01.jpeg

Our tour ended with a quick swim in the shivering cold water when the boat stopped in the middle of nowhere amidst the enormous bay. It was really cold and the non swimmer in me took a life jacket and jumped. 🙂

IMG_20170329_150809

img_20170329_104538-01.jpeg

Whether you choose the cheaper version of the tour or go for the luxury, do not miss out on experiencing the Halong Bay. It took my breath away and I am sure it will do the same to you. Below is a summary of expenses.

Transfer to Cat Ba: $10 – $12
Hostel: $5 per night
Food: $5 (lunch and dinner)
Day tour: $26 – $30 (including kayaking, snorkeling, all transports and a meal)
Tips: Bring a jacket, take your own snack, keep in mind the timetable for the ferry leaving Cat Ba if you have to leave the island on the same day.

I hope you find this useful. I did not invent or discover this. It was there with our best friend Google. A little research and I saved enough moulah.

To people who thought I am done with blogging, I am back! Follow me on social media for a closer look at my life.

Instagram TabassumTrails
Facebook TabassumTrails

IMG_20170329_141420-01.jpeg

Why you should add Hoi An to your list

Oh wow, you are going to Vietnam? It is beautiful. Have fun!

Yes! What do you recommend? I am so excited for Halong Bay!

Of course, Halong Bay – one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. But did you hear about Hoi An? It’s a must! Why? Check out below.

Hoi An is a beautiful little beach town in Central Vietnam with a magical ancient town right at its core. It has the sort of charm that will lure you forever to come back for more. It’s a tease I tell you! Small, cozy, quiet, colorful – I could go on forever with adjectives. But I have decided to talk less in this post and give you a little photo tour instead. No, I am not being lazy or looking for ways to escape writing a typical blog post. I just don’t think I have the right words to describe to you what Hoi An was. 

For quick info on food, accommodation and transport scroll to the bottom of the post.
(I can’t believe you don’t want to see my cool photos though. -_-)

I was in a new place I knew very less about with no fixed plans to follow, no time schedules to run after, no “must sees” list to tick off…no rush. This was exactly how I wanted to see Hoi An. This temple I stumbled upon was right outside my guest house. Abandoned, spooky which made it even more interesting for me.

Not a soul nearby

You will find many such structures everywhere around the town. Never hesitate to go in if you are an architecture/culture geek like me. Just make sure to ask for permissions at the gate (if you see anyone around), take off your shoes in religious spaces and speak politely (even through your body language). Vietnamese people are very warm and inviting. My curiosity made me even enter people’s homes and private courtyards. But like I said be respectful always and they will be the same to you. 

Want to soak in Vitamin Sea for the day?

Go to the An Bang beach to lie down, take a dip or sip a cocktail (or two) or read a book for hours (I did them all). It’s the nearest beach from the centre of Hoi An and you can take a bike down here or hire a taxi/Grab car/moto or better yet, walk. Around the beach are some amazing (and expensive) restaurants which serve some of the best seafood of the town. Must try! 

To go in or not to go in

We made our way to the Ancient town of Hoi An which is where all the shops, restaurants are. From kite shops to custom made clothing outlets, from cafes to yum restaurants – you name anything touristy, they have it here. I quickly dropped Tas at Friendly bags and was out to walk around the yellow town I had seen so many photos of.

Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site – UNESCO

An overdose of colorful lanterns hanging everywhere

yellow <3

Are you asking yourself why yellow?

Well, to some yellow is the symbol of prosperity and well being. To others it symbolizes royalty. Climatically it is said to reflect sun-rays away and hence not absorb much heat. Whichever the reason may be, the many shades of yellow makes this an ideal paradise for any photo enthusiast. 

I love colors and this place probably will be my “spirit town” (if there is such a thing) for quite some time. You can never get bored, you can never click enough photos and you can never get tired of walking around. Here are some things you could do:

Rent a bike and stroll around the town…

You will see many places where you will be asked for $1-$2 to park your bike. Don’t listen to them. There are many restaurants where if you buy a bottle of mineral water for 10K VND they will let you park your bike for free.

Or be the lazy tourist and ride one of these cyclo-rickshaws…

Drink coffee and chill and chill more…

Shop till you drop, may be?

Well I am not much into shopping anymore. But Hoi An has a good reputation of having the best craftsmen in Vietnam. Check out Friendly for custom made leather shoes and bags (they have separate outlets for each). If you are a fashionholic, Hoi An is the place to stitch that beautiful dress or suit you have taken a screenshot of. Just show them the photo, give them your measurements and it will be delivered to your hostel the next day.

17634568_10211245165819247_6763485579390973011_n
The only thing I got for myself (besides the mandatory magnet and sketchbook) was this. Always wanted one.

Check out the ancient houses and beautiful temples for free.

Did I already tell you Hoi An is a mix of the rural and the urban? There are rice fields all around the city and if you go outside this touristy hub, you may feel a little lost. But beautiful landscapes are guaranteed.  

The canal that flows through the ancient town was where I loved sitting around. I have spent hours there doing nothing but observing people around (or sketching). And it’s so interesting to see the way the traffic changes around the water body as the day goes along. The locals trying to sell a boat ride to the tourists or couples sharing a kiss or pestering each other to take better photos (hahaha!) or just people like me sitting here for no reason. 

Behold – the waterfront of Hoi An ancient town.
It’s amazing to see the people moving on that side of the waterbody and the reflections that form
I could go for another cruise

wp-1499657989528.

As the night fell, colors started to lit up. On the waters, on the streets and in the skies too. Here comes another face of Hoi An.

Narrow streets, yellow buildings and lanterns – that’s Hoi An

There were more people on the streets now. A different buzz was in the air now. The chilled out lazy town seemed to have lit up in an less than hour. 

Could you be any more prettier?
I don’t know why this reminds me of a movie I used to watch as a kid. 

The sky was full of colors and if I was a bit of a romantic I would probably have taken a boat ride, get a floating candle for a wish. Nah, too much of realist! 😉

After a good dinner by the waterfront (forgot to take photos, tipsy mistakes) we went out to explore the night market that opens up every night  on the other side of the town (cross the bridge that connects two sides of the water body and you will end up there). Haggle hard if you want to shop here. I wanted to get a lantern but it was super expensive. Hence I ended up getting one from the town shops later on for much cheaper.

Even if you don’t shop, you must roam around in this night market, sip a drink or two and eat the street food. It’s beautiful and so much fun. And a shot like this is a must if you are there with a special person. 

Or ask a stranger to take one like this if you are there just by yourself…

Or like this if you are out partying and shopping with your best friends…

How can you reach Hoi An?

Fly and taxi: The closest airport (30minutes) from Hoi An is Da Nang International Airport. If you take a flight to DAD, grab a taxi to Hoi An. It will cost you 500k VND. Expensive if you are traveling solo. We shared our taxi with 3 other backpackers. So yes, always look around and see if you find people to share a ride with. You’d be surprised how many people are out there trying to save money on the go.

Take the bus: Now this can be a little tricky and time consuming. Basically you will have to go to Da Nang bus station to Hoi An bus station, 20 minutes/route. It will cost you 25,000 VND.

Train to Da Nang railway station: I hear it is one of the most scenic train journeys if you are coming from up North. But then again you will have to take a bus or taxi to Hoi An from the railway station.

Where did I stay?

While doing my research before this trip, Hoi An seemed like the place I would like to splurge a little and stay at a villa or something. So I looked up my options on Booking.com and found some beautiful villas that are not only serene but super cheap. We stayed at the Hoi An Villa, a 15 minutes walk from the ancient town. For a private room we spent $10 per night with complimentary breakfast. So it’s the same $5 dorm rent for us, only much prettier and peaceful!

What to eat?

I personally think you can never go wrong with food in Hoi An. Try the seafood because it is super fresh. Eat a Banh Mi because it is completely different from the ones in Hanoi.  Sip uncountable numbers of cocktails and drink as many heavenly Vietnamese coffees. Here are some restaurants I recommend:

Other things to do
  • Join a cooking class or a lantern making class
  • Rent a scooter to check out the paddy fields and villages nearby.
  • Check out Lady Buddha, Marble Mountains or My Son sanctuary – all at close distance from Hoi An.

 

We loved our stay in Hoi An so much that we cancelled some of other plans we had and extended our stay here. When we talk about Vietnam, Halong Bay is probably the first thing that pops into our mind. But for me, this is the place. It is perhaps the most well preserved and picturesque UNESCO heritage towns I have seen so far.  It’s a treat and you must visit!

Hoi An has my heart and I can’t wait to go back. Let me know in the comment section below if you are going as well or have any questions regarding the magical Hoi An!

Follow TabassumTrails on Instagram and Facebook to know more about my daily whereabouts.  

All photos belong to TabassumTrails unless otherwise credited.

A day in Sapa

A spur of the moment decision made me decide I want to see Sapa for at least a day. Yes, yes I know it is not enough (sue me) but this was all that I had and weirdly I don’t regret it much. 

Yen helped us to book our return tickets to Sapa via a tourist bus. It probably cost us $30. The bus picked us up in a shuttle from our hostel at the old quarters’ and drove around to pick a few more people up. This was my first time in a sleeper bus of this kind. Of course we have night journeys but not buses where I can actually lie down comfortably. Now if you are tall this might be a little crammed for you. But for a 5’3″ person I was more than happy with the space. 

The bus and seats (beds?)
The amazing panaromic view

A very comfortable​ (but with smelly feet odor) sleep followed as our bus hauled through the night. At 4 am my sleep broke by a halt and we were told we have reached our destination but can sleep until there is enough light outside. Few hours later we all stepped out and find ourselves surrounded by Hmong ladies willing to take us for a tour or homestay. Some alret had their tours booked and some, like us, had just a day. We moved to Hotel Sunrise to freshen up and start our day trip. 

All freshened up but hungry, my friend and I looked for some breakfast. It was heavily fogged and overcast too. Made me happier about our decision to stay only a day. 

Town centre

We grabbed some hot breakfast and went on to explore the town. It was the one of the most scenic hill station and reminded me of Mount Abu in India – quiet ambience and no traffic. 

But man it was cold! Raining and cold. Tas and I only had windbreakers on. We actually wrapped our blankets around and wore them as our jackets. Things you gotta do to survive and not spend money on a jacket for a day. We did get ourselves some gloves. So if you are going to Sapa at any time of the year : Warm clothes are must! 

This is how i looked

Anywho, with less time in hand we picked out the things we really wanted to see and one of them was a nearby tribal village. So we hired motorbike each and were off to see the Cat Cat village. It is very touristy but with the time and shitty weather – this was the best we could do. You can see this by yourself actually. So it’s not necessary to go there with a Hmong lady who will try their best to sell you a tour. Also they will try to sell you jewelry. Be the judge yourself if you really want to buy those. I won’t discourage you but would advise you to check a few and only then purchase. 

The entrance will cost you 50k dong and you have to walk through the village to explore it. I had never seen rice terraces before so I was kind of overly excited to see them finally. We have rice fields in my country too and they are pretty, but no terraces. Luckily the fog had lifted and left the town in mild breezy weather. 

Back in the town centre for lunch, we went to a place called “Mango” which I had looked up on TripAdvisor. If you are in a new city and confused about where to eat always turn on “cheap eats” option on TripAdvisor and trust me you will land in the best options. We had some steaming beef fried rice there. It was really good for both the taste and portion. So Mango you get a 5 🌟 from me. 

As I have already mentioned we had decided on the things we want to do beforehand. So Tas and I were off to Fansipan Legend – a cable car ride to the highest Indochina summit. Of course you can trek your way up there if you have the days and energy. But trekking was never our thing neither did we have the time. 

700k dong for a ride did seem a bit too much but for the experience I had I don’t regret it a bit. These photos will explain why.


Well we did think we would not have to climb any stairs but we were wrong. At such high altitude there was very less oxygen. The air was super dry and it was so cold and windy that even our blanket jackets were not working. 

So we climbed up and finally reached the peak of 3140m – the highest peak of Indochina region. 

Although rushed but I did this with a friend who I figured I love more than I thought I did. I honestly couldn’t have a better companion for this and as a matter of fact for the whole of my Vietnam trip. We laughed, swore at each other but made it through the depleated oxygen levels and awful cold.

Currently I am at a place where it is very hard to get enough internet to even check my emails or messages. I had to climb a hill  at 6.30 in the morning to get this post published. Hence please don’t hate me if I am taking forever to post my reviews on Vietnam. 

Hypnotized by Hanoi: Part 2 | Reasons I don’t want to leave & a brief city guide |

Being an architect (yes, I am one unfortunately), old traditional parts of the city attract me more. Probably that’s why I fell in love with the Old quarters of Hanoi just when I saw the photos of it. By its name you probably would have guessed its significance. It’s the oldest part of the city of Hanoi and possibly the friendliest place in Vietnam. Much like Old Dhaka of my country Bangladesh, it has narrow streets with old buildings on both sides that houses a shop on the ground floor and residences on the upper levels. Also alike our Puran Dhaka, each of the 36 streets is dedicated to a certain product to sell – clothes, leather products, food, utensils, stationary…You name it, they have it.

Strolling in the Old quarters

The old quarters has a certain charm to it and will make you instantly fall in love with it. Cobbled streets, buzzing mopeds, warm toned houses and colorful shops with interesting people sitting on the streets – I am in love. Here is a photo story of my alone time just walking on the streets of Old Quarters one early morning.

IMG_20170412_121150_783
Flowers are everywhere on the streets in the early mornings of Hanoian life
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
Love the sharp contrast between the upper and lower levels
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Screens of different forms to cut out the heat – love the green!
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
An oddly familiar one.
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
One photo and a diverse range of railing details. Sorry for the boring talk – sue the architect in me!
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
All the AC outlets to the front – perhaps the only open side.
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
We call these bamboo screens “cheek” . Wonder what they call them…
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
Reminiscence of the last night’s party
Bach Ma Temple

I could literally go on forever with the photostream. But while strolling in the Old Quarter I ended up in the 11th century Bach Ma Temple – one of the oldest place’s of worship in Hanoi. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To was trying to build the citadel of Hanoi but it’s walls kept collapsing. Bach  Ma, a white horse who was the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi) posed as a builder to help the king. This temple was then dedicated to honor the spirit of the spirit and the statue of a white horse still stands there. It is a serene place and a must visit.

Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư  Shrine

At a walking distance is a 12th century Buddhist shrine Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư
A simple look from the outside will invite you in to see soaring heights and heavy ornamentation.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

The morning walk ended at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Oddly resembles the Notre Dame of Paris, this Neo Gothic structure was one of the first ones built by the French during there rule. It is situated close to the Hoan Kiem lake and opens up to plaza in front. I ended up  there on a Sunday morning and am lucky to have observed the incredible Sunday Mass. Fun fact: All the material of the cathedral has been imported from France.

This ended my morning walk and I joined my friends to see Hanoi outside the Old Quarters. You can hire a motorbike or get  a Grab taxi or call an Uber. We were three people and hence shared an Uber ride to go to the next  destinations.

Hanoi Old Citadel

A UNESCO world heritage site and relics of the citadel of Hanoi is now open to public and a must visit. It was the house of the old monarchs. Entrance is  30000k dong and you will need around 1 or 2 hours to roam around the entire premises.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Located on an island like place on the West Lake is the oldest pagoda of Hanoi Tran Quoc Pagoda that dates back to 1500 years. It is famous as a Buddhist pilgrimage site and also attracts a lot of tourist during festivals. You will see the 15m high stupa from the road itself. It has 11 levels each with a centre gemstone. The landscape is stunning, although slightly urbanized. To see pilgrims walking around the Bodhi tree in circles or hearing chants was a treat.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

One of the widely visited site of Hanoi is the final resting place of the great leader Ho Chi Minh. It is a giant granite structure with a large square in the front, open to public. Admissions inside the mausoleum is free but make sure you are dressed right. The security is of course tight and bags and cameras are not allowed.

  • Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
  • For maintenance the mausoleum is closed usually from October onwards.So its better to check once if you are headed there around that time.
  • Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
French Quarters

While the Old Quarter is cozy but it can also be chaotic. To take a break wander around the French Quarter which lies to the south and east of Hoan Kiem Lake. The wider streets, spacious pavements and posh architecture. It is rather sad that the original Vietnamese architecture were taken down and replaced with French inspired buildings that will clearly give you deja vu of Parisian streets.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Take a walk in the Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning as well. I went there the previous night but saw a different side of it in the morning. Don’t forget to try Note Coffee and leave a note.

Other places to check out:

Temple of Literature:

A series of pavilions, halls and courtyards housing the first national university of Vietnam. If you are into architecture, this is one of the rare well preserved Vietnamese structures you must visit.

One pillar pagoda

Behind the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is this unique pagoda standing on one concrete column/pillar. It symbolizes a lotus rising from a pond and is open daily from 08:00-17:00.

 

Where did I stay?

Name: Rendezvous Hanoi Hostel

Location: Old Qaurters, Hanoi

Cost” $4 per night for a bed in a mixed dorm.

The hostel is right at the heart of the Old Qaurters’ backpackers’ area and at a close proximity to many restaurants and shops. Hanoi Rendezvous is 500 m from Dong Xuan Market, while Old City Gate and St. Joseph Cathedral are 600 m away. Noi Bai International Airport is approximately 21 km away. I used the red Vietjet bus to reach this place from the airport which cost me 40k dong and took 30 minutes.

The staff is very friendly and super helpful. You can trust them blindly for any ticket or tour bookings. Breakfast was not included but is served for $1-$3 every morning.

What else to eat?

Apart from what I have already posted on my previous post on Hanoi food tour, this place was noteworthy and is a must try if you want to try the Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi. The restaurant is called Banh Mi 25 and is widely known for its freshly made sandwiches and coffee. Try going there early morning. One Banh Mi costs 25k dong.

Transport:

I have greatly relied on Uber and Grab. Please download those apps if you are in Vietnam and while you access to WiFi. You can easily split the fare if you are in a group. Or you could also hire a moped for real cheap rent per day. Please beware of scams and also bear in mind that the traffic is crazy in Hanoi but for the ones of you reading from Dhaka – it’s a piece of cake. 🙂

People:

The people are warm and welcoming. I had read so many articles on getting scammed (I’m sure they are out there) but I felt so safe and taken care of by the people there. Always with a smile on, eager to talk and always welcoming you.

I wish I had more time in just wandering on the streets or sketch more facades and cozy corners (and drink more coffee) for the next nth days in Hanoi. Do I want to go back to Hanoi? Definitely! (and never come back, may be?)

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

If you link on the names of the places on this post you will be directed to the exact Google map location of the place. Leave me a comment if you have any queries, like always I will surely respond. I know the posts take a long time to come. Please have patience – my life has been continuously taking a toll on me.

|Exploring Old Quarters the local way with Actxplorer|| Hypnotized by Hanoi: Part 1|

I have always believed whatever we do, whoever we meet happens for a reason. Sometimes I wonder what would my life be like if I didn’t come across these people I now know. I know Tas since when I don’t even remember. But she is the only friend I remember having from the earliest days of primary school. Yes, as early as the 2nd grade. One of my oldest and most treasured friends! Parisa is a new friend who I met on our online travel group Wanderlust but before I knew it we connected on a different level. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’ll be hopping on a flight to Vietnam with either of them. Talk about spontaneous decisions. Yes, I have made quite a lot of them! So on March 25, three of us flew from different cities in Asia to meet at Hanoi – a magical city in Vietnam. 

Check out my previous post if you want to know about Vietnam Visa details for Bangladeshi passport: Click here

Our hostel was in the old quarters, some 15km away from the Noi Bai International Airport of Hanoi. Months of research on TripAdvisor and reading travel blogs had already made my transfer options clear. The cheapest and easiest one is the red Vietjet bus for 40k dong.

Through changing landscapes of first nothing at sight, then peculiarly linear buildings and finally beautiful buzzing streets of Hanoi, we finally arrived at the Old Quarters. The Google map on my phone made us walk more into the interiors. First impressions: cobbled stone pavements and crazy mopeds riding all around us. As I dragged my little carry-on through the uneven pavements, I was already falling for the beauty of the Old Quarters.

Words of wisdom: It’s probably better to carry a backpack if you are staying at the old quarters and using public transportation.

By the time we freshened up it was almost time for our tour. Yes we already had organized a food tour with a social platform called Actxplorer. It was our first day in Hanoi and what better way would it be rather than spending it on amazing delicacies of the city. Actxplorer organizes guided tours all over Vietnam where you get to see the city through a local’s eyes. But this is not what make them so special. What makes them special is that through interactions between locals and tourists they are encouraging and helping the youngsters to improve their English speaking and networking skills.

“We collaborate with local communities, social enterprises and non governmental organizations (NGOs) in Asia to feature people and projects in three ways that you can participate in: Travel, Volunteer, Invest.” – Actxplorer

We met Yen Nguyen, our guide (and now a dear friend) downstairs of our hostel. She is friendly and fun to be with. It felt like we all immediately connected and were soon off to explore the buzzing streets of Old Quarters. It was a Saturday evening and I could sense the weekend party mood in people. 

Our first stop was Bún bò Nam Bộ. If you ask me what is the best food I have tasted in Hanoi, without even thinking twice I will say the beef noodle salad of this place. It is a rice noodles with marinated beef, herbs and peanuts drenched in a mouth watering sauce. It is so good that I literally cry when when I think about it now.

Yen walked us through the whole process of preparation of this dish and showed us what all goes in. The cooking was live and as you enter the shop you get to see all the ingredients too.

One of the thousand reasons I will be going back to Hanoi is this beef noodle. No, I am serious.

We then stopped to get some sugar cane juice. Unlike what we see on the streets of Dhaka, this was very hygienic and clean. And an added blessing – no extra sugar!

It was time for us to try the Vietnamese staple dish – Phở, a rice noodle soup cooked in a meat broth and garnished with lots of herbs. I am not a fan of rice at home and a crazy addict of soupy noodles. Oh, how I wish this was my everyday food.

Fun fact here that Yen told us. So there are many types of PHOS in Vietnamese dictionary: phố, phổ, phô, phơ, phờ, phở, phó.

  • Phố  is street, district, neighborhood.
  • Phở is the Vietnamese noodle soup. Pronounced “fuh”
  • Phò means prostitute. Pronounced “fo”

Now you better get your P H O right. Otherwise when you walk into a restaurant and ask for pho bo, you are asking for a beef prostitute. Hahaha! You don’t want to do that. 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
say “Fuh”
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Beautiful Yen

What is a food tour in Vietnam without some spring rolls right? Yen brought us to this next restaurant where we had the “freshest” seafood spring rolls. What I loved about every food we tried was each had its unique way of eating style and Yen taught us them all. Something I want to especially mention here – I am a Muslim and although I am not actively religious, I don’t eat pork. In Vietnamese cuisine a lot of pork is used in different forms. While I was discussing this tour with Actxplorer, I did mention it. I am so impressed that they took care of it so well. We munched on everything that was there but they made sure that our restrictions are respected. This is not something everyone does.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
This is wrapped in rice papers…
2017-05-05 07.16.58 1
…rolled with herbs and dipped into the papaya vinegar sauce P.C: Parisa

I am a coffee addict, did you know? We had to try the famous Vietnamese egg coffee and Yen took us to a cozy cafe which did serve some heavenly coffee. Over the coffee, we tried convincing Yen to join us for Sapa. She was half convinced too but then her work didn’t let her go. We even thought of options for her to make an excuse and run away. But Yen doesn’t lie. 😥 “Kidnap her may be?” 😛

We didn’t realize our food tour had also turned into a city tour! It was the perfect timing and we had arrived at Hoan Kiem Lake district. This place turns into a walking zone every weekend and attracts a huge lively crowd from all over the city. Live dance performances, concerts, street art – you name it. Also from around 7 pm every weekend, the streets running north from Hang Dao to Dong Xuan Market are closed to vehicular access and vendors put together a Weekend Night Market on the streets.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
People…
Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
…everywhere
Beautiful Hoan Kiem lake

Four giggling girlfriends now walked through this amazing place till quite late at night. What an amazing night! Honestly the best part of the whole tour were the conversations and interactions we had with Yen. She gave us a  complete local insight of the Old Quarters and its many specialties. Of course we loved the food but without all the laughing, giggling and enormous amounts of talking this would not be as much fun as it was. They say it right “company matters” and Yen from Actxplorer was just perfect. I highly recommend them as I am definite without them we would not even have known all these even existed.

Photo credit: Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

Till this experience even I was not a fan of “guided tours”. But trust me when I say this – this tour with Actxplorer has been one of the most fun experiences of my time in Vietnam. The reason I would ask you to choose Actxplorer is for the young kids who are investing their time in us and are so eager to learn more about languages and the outside world. So if you are in Hanoi, I would ask you to give this a try. It will surely open up a new perspective of the city to you. Vietnam is beautiful but what makes is magical are the people.

Check out Actxplorer on

Website: http://www.actxplorer.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Actxplorer-Vietnam-296877840746964/?ref=br_rs
https://www.facebook.com/actxplorer/

Let me know your thoughts on this post in the comment section. Would you try out something like this? Stay connected with me on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on my trails. Next post: Hanoi city guide. Stay tuned!

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
We also stopped by the St. Joseph’s cathedral ❤

All photos posted belong to TabassumTrails unless otherwise credited.

||TabassumTrails|| Visa Guides for Bangladeshi passports: Vietnam

VISA. One of the most hated word (in my dictionary) that creates a world of confusions and trouble in our minds when we only start wishing to go somewhere. Being the holder of the 88th rank, a Bangladeshi passport does not get to avail a lot of hassle free visas. This rather long and tiresome process can do a lot to take away the joy or excitement and even sometimes the wish itself to travel to a certain country.

As a Bangladeshi, getting a visa is not easy and gets more difficult if you are unemployed or don’t have enough “dough” in your account. But does that mean only the rich and stable are allowed to travel? I certainly do not hope so. From now onward, wherever I go I will make it a point to write a short post specifically on visas because  I won’t let  a stupid paperwork get in the way of your travel goals.

So an impulsive (yet probably one of the best) decision got me to buy a ticket to Vietnam from a sale. I had no clue about the visa requirements nor did I know how much it would cost me. How I got my head around the whole process is given below.

  1. Research: Google is our best friend and there is simply nothing you cannot find here. So before you fret, please google it!
  2. Ask around and read blogs: Browse through the many blogs and Facebook groups that will give you people’s personal recommendations. I personally got a lot of help and insight from Mijan bhai of Around the world by 2030.
  3. Prepare: Once you know the process or at least have an idea, get  your documents  ready according to the requirements.

Here goes my experience with my visa to Vietnam on a Bangladeshi passport.

17883651_10211362820840549_2808948625344154128_n

Essentials and Musts:

For a Vietnam visa , you will first need a visa approval letter. The visa Approval Letter is a issued by the Immigration Department of Vietnam. With this you are legally allowed to enter and exit Vietnam for a given period of time. Without this you are not allowed to apply for the visa at all. It is a MUST.

14619941_10210606345858739_1962913542_n
This is a sample of the visa approval letter.

Once you have the Approval Letter, you can pick up your Visa on Arrival at one of three international airports in Vietnam: Hanoi, Da Nang, or Ho Chi Minh City. Or you can apply for the visa at the Vietnam embassy to get a stamp visa.

Here is what I struggled with. When I wrote to the Vietnamese embassy, I was asked to contact a travel agency. When I contacted the agency, I was told they cannot process the visa for  Bangladeshi passports anymore and was asked to contact the embassy. :/ CONFUSION. After a little bit of research and asking around, I found out I could get the visa approval letter and the visa myself by paying online. But somehow I was unable to digest the exuberant fee of $207 and, more importantly, trust the online transaction. Trust me there have been many frauds.

14787116_10210746422080557_1704273941_o.png
one of the many forms I came across

Hence after many what-ifs and buts, I got in touch with a local travel agency here in Bangladesh called GoBdGo.com and I highly recommend them! Professional and smooth. They gave me two options:

OPTION 1: I could apply for both the approval letter and visa.
OR
OPTION 2: I could take the approval letter through them and take a visa on arrival.

Documents I needed:

I chose the second option as that would cost me less. To get the visa approval letter I was asked to send the agency a scan of my passport and my confirmed air-tickets. Yes. You will need your confirmed return flight tickets. If you are working, you will need to send them a visiting card too. The visa approval letter cost me 8000 BDT or $98.

Once you have the approval letter, you can apply for the stamp visa too. Or like me go for an VOA by paying $25 and submitting a passport sized photo at the landing visa counter at the international airport in Vietnam. There is a form called Form N1 that needs to be filled up for VOA. I always prefer to download such forms and fill them up beforehand rather than queuing up only to get this form. You can also find the same at the airport counter.

Stamp visa VS Visa on Arrival:

I heard from a lot of people that “the queue for VOA at the airport is too long” or “why would you want to wait in a queue”. But a stamp visa from here would cost me more than double of what I had to pay for the VOA. Also THERE WAS NO QUEUE OR WAIT TIME! It took me 10 minutes to get my visa and the small queue was very fast moving.

17426216_1832099987057569_8382755465490768891_n
That’s me! Photo credit: Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa aka Piedography (follow that cool page!)

So there you are, all sorted with Vietnam visa for Bangladeshi passport holders. Visas are scary, of course. But if you have the right documents and follow the right procedure, there is no reason why you should not be given the permission to enter a certain country.

Some important info:

International airport in Vietnam: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang
Two types of visa: VOA or Stamped visa
On arrival visa fee: $25
Visa approval letter fee: around $100
Vietnamese embassy in Dhaka: http://www.vietnameseembassy.org/bangladesh+dhaka.html

Website of GoBdGo.com: www.gobdgo.com

My next post will be about the lovely city of Hanoi and how to explore it to the fullest even on a BUDGET. Follow my blog and stay connected with me through social media for updates and tips on traveling the world on a budget.

Facebook page: TabassumTrails

https://www.facebook.com/tabassumtrails/

Instagram: TabassumTrails

https://www.instagram.com/tabassumtrails/?hl=en

Sajek – a must!

Sajek, December 2016

I knew I was running late – still had to pack my bags, take a shower and get to the bus station. Wonder what I was doing the whole freaking day! I fumbled through my closet and found what I wanted to take with me. Thanks to my checklist got everything I needed in my bag within the next few minutes. Yes, I always make a list of things I’ll carry. I took a hot shower and stuffed myself with some quick dinner because my mom would never let me leave home without having a proper meal.

10.15 pm already and I was still stuck in traffic. As much as I hate being late but I knew I will probably be the last person to arrive. I finally reached the bus station and found my travel companions. Everyone was still not here and thankfully our bus was late. If you have read my previous post, you probably know already. If you haven’t, here’s recap for you: this was a trip 8 girls were taking where anyone barely knew each other. We all met on Facebook through a female travel group. And there we were all getting to know each other. Anxious parents of our group were also there to see their daughters off. We waved goodbyes and finally our journey started at around 11pm from Dhaka. We were now off to Sajek.

We were taking a night bus to Khagrachari. It’s a +8 hours ride on a non-air con bus, but since it was a winter night that was not a problem.  However something else was. Till this date, I am wondering if our bus driver was a human being or a supernatural. The way he snaked and speed-rushed his way through the high speed buses and trucks, I seriously thought this was going to be the last ride of my life. The front seat on the bus made it even worse for me. After a sleepless ride on the superman’s bus, we reached our destination just when dawn was breaking. Beautiful is the word for what was around us and with all that I forgot about the awful bus ride. It’s time for breakfast and we stopped at an indigenous restaurant called Ejor.

IMG_20161216_084402
Warm and cozy seating arrangement at Ejor

After a fresh warm breakfast, we caught our next ride to Sajek. Behold “the Chander Gari”. For those who don’t know what it is, here is a photograph. Basically it is a heavy duty vehicle with no sides covered that are mainly used to get around hill-tracts to counteract the ridiculously bumpy, curved roads. This was not my first ride on one of these, but for some in my group it was. Now these can be expensive rides if you are less in number and on a budget trip. However one chander gari can easily be shared by 13 passengers.

The chander gari whisked and growled through the hilly roads covered with overgrown fauna on both sides. Every now and then there would some breaks between these trees that opened up magnificent views of the distant hills or the valleys hundreds of feet below us. We jumped, screamed, dangled our feet outside our ride and even slept a little through this 3/4 hour ride.

The views were mesmerizing and we could not imagine what a treat was waiting for us when we would finally reach our destination – Zawlbuk cottage, a two storied wooden house built far away from the typical crowded residential area of Sajek. What made it more unique was it stood there alone at the foot of Konglak Pahar which is said to be the highest peak of Sajek.

We had two rooms on the upper floor each connected to the entrance veranda which looked at uninterrupted views of the beautiful valleys of Sajek that stretched out to the borders of Myanmar/India. I was in awe with the bouncy clouds swaying over the lush green beyond us, casting strange shadows on the valleys beneath.  We were above the clouds and it was a treat to watch them dance.

 

I could sit here and watch this the whole day. I don’t know if this happens to everyone. But at times like these I tend to go very quiet…I tend to think about people I wish were there to see this with me. How I wish I could share this experience with them.

We were called downstairs for lunch soon after a quick shower. The lunch was organized in a little shaded pavilion called “matcha”. It is a raised bamboo structure with a thatch roof that works as a dining space and also a great place to chill. Lunch was divine. I am not much of a foodie but I can assure you that the food here is unparallel to any that I have tasted so far in the hill tracts. Just want to add here, water is scarce in Sajek. The people have to go a lot of distance to bring usable water for us. Hence if you go there, please use it wisely. A little waste of this precious resource only adds more to the rigorous work the locals have to do every day.

At around 4pm we were off to climb the Konglak hill and, more importantly, to witness the glorious sunset it is famous for. The hike was very short and we reached the peak at no time.

15541605_10212027313666589_4195012867115702450_n

It was rather crowded. So we made our way out to find some quiet away from the chaos. In situations like these, normally we tend to settle at the spot that we see first, no matter how crowded it may be or how busy the area is. But if you like your own space and a little silence always leave that crowded spot and look around a little deeper. You will be surprised because not everyone will go beyond that common spots.

The sun, glorious and ablaze, was on its way to set over the picturesque terrain beyond us.

1 (6)

Further inside the area, we found this spot. This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in Bangladesh. As the daylight started to fade away into the dusk, it was time to head back to our cottage.

IMG_20170109_004701_459
Sunset

People sleep early in the hills and villages because they start their day with the sun. Hence we were called for dinner at 8pm. The food was spicy but super good.

333
Dinner is served! Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

This area does not have electricity supply and runs on solar power. The generator was quickly shut down after dinner. It was pitch black around us. After the longest time I was experiencing such quietness at night. It felt like my ears had popped. Lying on my back, I looked out in the darkness. Twinkling over the slightly red toned sky were a thousand stars. The last time I had seen so many stars together was in 2009. Neither do I know if it was the Milky Way nor will I try to define it. This was one of those times I wished I had a camera to freeze this memory.

We were still chilling on the “matcha” when suddenly we saw this strange white light over the far distant mountains. Panic struck! “Something must have caught fire”…“Is that the Indian border, have they set everything on fire?”…The almost circular shaped light was growing and rising above the hills. What on earth was that thing? Yes, the first moon. I am unable to describe exactly was I saw with my naked eyes. For the first time in my life I was witnessing the rise of a new moon. With so much excitement around, we forgot we were on a higher altitude and to us it looked like the moon was rising from the ground or from behind those hills. I sat there stunned. This was going to a night to remember I said to myself…a night of many “firsts”.

111
The new moon. Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

5 am and the alarm went off. I pulled myself out of the bed and freshened up. Sajek is famous for its jaw dropping sunrises amidst play of clouds and we were up to see that. I pulled up a chair in the veranda and waited as the dawn was about to break. With the orange hue spreading, we could see the bed of clouds before us. It looked as if it’s a blanket of cotton candy or a sea of coconut ice scream – waiting to be scooped out.

One of my (many) life goals is to see sunrises and sunsets from every possible coast I can reach. Although not a shoreline, I am beyond glad that I have been able to see the sunrise of Sajek. Bangladesh is beautiful – I wish more people would realize it and would treasure its beauty.

15590086_10157959501945080_4619453211878154327_n
Photograph by Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

I went on a morning walk after this. What I saw can, perhaps, be best explained by photographs.

Back at the cottage, all warmed up! The sun was up & bright and my favourite “matcha” was all warm and cozy by its rays. Time for some chilling before breakfast is served. None of us wanted to go back and we were actually discussing the “what-ifs” regarding leaving work forever and settling here to work as a staff at this homestay. What if?

15492184_10210280677467641_6950920101419452710_n
My favorite “Matcha”. Photo belongs to Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

We waved our final goodbyes to Mintu dada and thanked him for the amazing hospitality at Zawlbuk. It was time to head back to Khagrachari where we were going to spend the day sightseeing before catching an overnight bus back to Dhaka.

I want this post to be only about magical Sajek and hence will not be adding anything about the day tour of Khagrachari. This place is special and one of its kinds. I strongly urge you that you go now before it gets touristy than it is now. Zawlbuk is probably under renovation right now (I have promised myself I’ll go back only when it is back in business) but there is a new one I hear that is located on the Konglak hill itself.

16298970_10212420392613317_4255549014329949584_n
Zawlbuk from Konglak hill. Photograph by Sumaiya Amin

Below are some important information you may refer to in case you are visiting Sajek.

Sajek is located at a distance of 100km from Khagrachari and lies in the district of Rangamati in the southeast corner of Bangladesh. It is a remote hilly valley that lies at a height of some +2000′ from sea level. It is called the valley of clouds. The scenic beauty of dancing clouds, green landscape and picturesque sunsets and rises are what makes it so special. With the establishment of the army camp at the spot, it is now more accessible and has recently started to attract a large number of tourists.

  • Bus from Dhaka to Khagrachari – Hanif, Shaymoli, Unique. Cost: 500-600 BDT
  • Chander gari from Khagrachari to Sajek costs 5000-6000 BDT. It can be shared by a minimum of 13 people (or more if you ride the roof).
  • You will need to take permission from the army camp for your entrance in the sajek valley. The army will provide security escort your chander gari through Bagaihat Bazaar to the valley. There is a schedule (10.30AM & 3.30PM) and waiting time of 30minutes for this escort.
  • If you are a foreigner (non-Bangladeshi passport), you will need to apply for permission much before you arrive in Khagrachari. Don’t try to sneak in by hiding your nationality. You will get into trouble if you get caught.
  • Where to stay: Ruilui para has a number of cottages and “resorts”. You will need to book them before your arrival. I will, however, suggest you to live near or at Konglak. Prices start from 1500 BDT. Each room can be shared by 4-6 people.
  • Food is cheap and tribal food are must haves!
  • Water is scarce and very hard to get. Please do not waste it.
  • Be nice to the locals. They have hearts of gold.
  • This place is heavenly. Please don’t litter.

I know this post has been long overdue. Over the last few months (especially after this trip) a lot of unprecedented changes have showed up in my life. While I love documenting my experiences, time has not been very favorable and at its best for me. Nevertheless, I have been traveling and will strive to post as regularly as I can from now on. So stay tuned for more about my trails.

Always love hearing your feedback, do let me know what you think about this or about any queries regarding Sajek.

All photos belong to TabassumTrails, unless otherwise mentioned in captions.

For the love of Wanderlust

You don’t travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself. – Ella Maillart

The concept of travel for pleasure… for the self…is yet to settle down completely in our society. Travel is still primarily linked to work in societies such as ours. Thankfully, the scenario is changing now. It feels amazing to see that there are now thousands of people who “choose” to getaway whenever they can, wherever they can for pleasure, for self revelations and for heartily satisfactions. However, it’s a shame that not everyone is “allowed” to decide for themselves. Not always are we allowed to fly. Not always do we set ourselves free. I have probably come across very few women travel enthusiasts who have not encountered the following questions.

Why do you need to go? Will your family allow you to go? Who are you going with? How do you know them? Is it even safe for a girl? Isn’t your family going with you?

I am no different than them and have faced my share of restrictions too. I am more than thankful to Allah for the experiences I have gathered till now – Alhumdullilah for all that. But only I know what I had to go through to make them come true. Millions of questions, many fights and dissatisfaction, even doubts at times.The motto was not to give up and it still is.

Following a similar complicated situation on an early morning of June 2016 while sitting in my (then) workplace, it suddenly occurred to me that there are perhaps many like me…who have the willingness to see but constrained to let go for many reasons. A sudden frenzy took over me. I logged into my  Facebook, pressed “Create Group” and typed “Wanderlust” in the name section. And Wanderlust: a women travellers society was born. Rapidly but discreetly it began to grow in numbers. My guess was right. There were indeed so many ladies who were (are) looking for relief, adventure and inspiration. I was thrilled to see the content people were sharing and that too with full enthusiasm. Meeting new people online, knowing their stories and experiences was so inspiring. The lust for travel grew even more. I even met another like minded person on this group who is now my co-admin and, hopefully, a life long friend – Parisa. Never could I imagine that I would connect with someone so well whom I met online. She is a gem and one of a kind. The photos that you will see later in this post belong to her.

untitled-1

Earlier in 2016 I got in touch with an Italian architect R.M. (initials to maintain confidentiality) who was visiting Bangladesh. I learnt each year he arranges trips where men and women in their late years could sign up without knowing where they are going until they get on the airplane. While I didn’t know how that worked in terms of paperwork and visa etc, but I was very excited by the idea and wanted more than ever to try it, if possible with my group.

On July 2016, I started the first poll on the group asking if they would be interested to go for an all girls trip and to where. After many voting, enthusiastic responses and promises to go, it was finally 8 of us who were off to Sajek in the south-eastern zone of Bangladesh. On December 14, 8 girls completely unknown to each other were off to Sajek, Khagrachari for Wanderlust’s first trip. In this post I will not go into the details of the trip because Sajek, that trip and those 8 people are special and deserve a separate post with all details of our crazy adventure. That will come soon… till then here are some photos of my crazy and now amazing group of friends.

15665682_10157958429710080_3935803034425359225_n

15492548_10157958351190080_7613577165088641186_n
Sunrise viewing at Sajek                                                                         ©parisa

Off the explore the waterfalls of Khagrachari                                    ©parisa

Who can tell these people barely knew each other before this? ©parisa

15439791_10157958254945080_9139894927756928643_n
The mandatory jump photo after many attempts (I still didn’t make a decent jump)

I am so glad we did this trip together and honestly could not have asked for better companions. This trip has definitely left it’s mark on me and left me stronger with memories to cherish. I hope this is only the beginning and many for to come, In sha Allah.

Through this group we are not vouching for any feminist standpoint neither are we here to demean men or families  or even the idea of reliance on them. In a world where the tourism and travel business is made up of equal (if not higher) number of women as men, there are still instances where the sex “female” is portrayed and assumed to be a weakness. Women are still threatened by sexual violence and abuse, both at home and on the go. Change must and will come, but it won’t if you decide to sit at home and let that tingling feeling fade away.  I keep telling myself: no one is capable for solving all our problems. Only you are in control of your experiences and how you live through them. In this patriarchal unsafe society, Wanderlust is only an attempt to lend out a hand for any female in need of inspiration or boost if ever she feels less- because she is in no way less. Women have gone out to the moon even and this is only the world we wish to see.

By the time this post gets published, we will probably be on our way to our second trip to explore a heritage site.  In the days to come, we hope to come up with more activities that encourage independent travel among women. International trip is hopefully the next milestone we hope to reach soon. Wish us luck. Let me know your thoughts on this post  or our group in the comments section below.

15780625_10211835082257041_4792415073545300775_n
More faces of Wanderlust meeting over a Friday morning adda

To find, Wanderlust click here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/wanderlustbangladesh/

Photo credits: Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

|| Travel and Beauty || with Mesmerizing Mehnaz & Diary of a Makeupholic

At home, you are in your cozy cocoon. Your army of skincare products are all on your vanity and ready at your skin’s service. You have some for morning skincare routines and another set for nighttime. Your skin is in its right climate, getting pampered, boosted with timely nutrition and there you are- glowing.

But when you are on the go? What happens then? Your skin may no longer be  in its “happy place”.

Whether you are on a small getaway from the city or backpacking for days, traveling can take a bit of a toll on your skin. A city unknown, a weather to adjust to, an unfamiliar territory and running with the clock to explore the place or even just to get an hold of the “body clock” can be stressful. To look good or let’s just  say “picture-decent” just adds on to the stress level. Chapped lips, burnt nose and dull hair is a nightmare when all you want to do is look good in that favorite picturesque scene.

It is not any different for me either. Recently I was so sun-burnt and victim to a fury of breakouts that I skipped taking photos up close. It really affects the mood and, most importantly, breaks confidence. While I am nobody to be a guide for you in terms of skincare and beauty management, here are some of the basics that I am following.

 

Drink enough water/fruit juice

Without adequate water intake, skin appears dull. Those fine lines we hate and “asteroid sized” pores start showing more.  Hydrating your body with enough fluids is the perfect mantra to a supple glowing and always camera-ready skin.

drink-on-beach

Protect thy skin from ze sun

You don’t want to be sun tanned or burnt, trust me. Not only affect your complexion but also will greatly harm your skin in the longer run. Wrinkles, Scars, Spots- you name it.

images11

skin_tanning

Blot out that oil

This is for all my fellow oil tanks. A shiny nose and oil smeared face is not something you want to cherish later when you get home. Not only this will clog your pores, but also that oil on the skin will attract more dirt and welcome even greater skin nightmares.

Moisturize

Many of us oily skins assume that we don’t need a moisturizer. That is not true. You know I realized when my skin is least moisturized is when it produces more sebum. Also you really don’t want that overall dry and dull flaky skin. So moisturizer, yes please and always! Lock that hydration.

Eat healthy, eat enough

You are in a different place – indulge yourself in the food. There is so much to explore even in terms of food and cuisine! Please don’t skip meals as it reflects on your body and its strength. It is so easy to fall sick or for fatigue to take over if you are not fueling your body right.

ratatouille

Sleep well

A new place and a new time zone. Sleeping may be difficult and even hurried at times but try to catch naps and a sound-sleep at night(even if it is only a few hours). You will feel fresh when you are up and active too which is all you need for a great day ahead in this beautiful place you are checking out. If all that does not relate to you, just imagine those dark circles 😀

imagesadasd

Take it easy

Stop stressing. Stress shows on your face! You are doing something that you love and, most importantly, living an amazing day in a place that you chose to explore. I know things don’t always work out as planned, but please relax. This is not an exam or interview. This is your day, my friend. Live it, without those panic attacks and worries.

imageshb

 

 

While I only know the very basics when it comes to skincare and beauty, I am no expert in this. Two brilliant beauty gurus  have generously agreed to collab on this post to share what they do or use when they are on the go. I cannot thank you two enough,  Mehnaz from Mesmerizing Mehnaz and Surovi from Diary of a Makeupholic.

Here’s what they prefer and carry when they hit the road. 

 

Mesmerizing Mehnaz

Mehnaz Tabassum Khan is an aspiring architect and avid makeup lover. A skincare specialist by heart, she is one of the very few people who actually go to the lengths of research and studies to understand how a certain product may work on a certain type of skin.

Packing makeup/skincare for travel is always a hassle, especially for people who are skincare junkie like me. Can’t exactly take the whole squad with me while on tour, can I? Here, I have prepared a bare minimum list of stuff that you might need while on travel.

  • Sunscreen: Don’t even leave the home without it. Avoiding sunscreen will make you horribly sun tanned. Opt for sunscreens that have SPF 50 PA+++
    Blogger’s favorite: Thank You Farmer Sun Essence
  • BB Cream & Concealer: This is optional. If you want a little bit of coverage, then pack one in your bag. You might also want to keep a cushion foundation. Looks more natural than BB creams.
    Blogger’s favorite: Klairs Mochi Cushion and Klairs BB cream is my top pick for this category. Maybelline Fit Me Concealer is also a good choice if you want full coverage.
  • Setting Powder: Any cheap and sturdily packaged setting powder that will keep the oiliness in check.
    Blogger’s favorite: Generally I keep Innisfree No Sebum Powder in my bag. But you can try a cheap compact like the Makeup Revolution as well.
  • Eye-shadow palette and Brushes: A mini eye-shadow palette that has neutral shadows with some of the basic brushes. Take one pencil brush, one blending brush and an all-over eyeshadow brush.
  • Lip Balms and Lip Liners: Keep a tinted lip balm in your bag. It will hydrate your lips as well. Also, take some liners along with you. Never know when you’ll need one.
    Blogger’s favorite: Nyx Butter Balm in Ladyfingers is my absolute favorite.
  • Perfume & Dry shampoo: This is a little bit tricky. if you are traveling on an airplane, keep them in your luggage.
    Blogger’s favorite: currently using the Co-Lab dry shampoos as they are translucent. But you can use Batiste ones as well. For perfume, get the travel perfumes of High-end brands from Shop-a-go. Easy to carry and only 450 ones per bottle.
  • Foaming Cleanser: Because you need a good cleanser to get rid of the dirt from our face.
    Blogger’s favorite: Chica Y Chico Hatching Foam cleanser
  • Face Mist: It will refresh your skin and will also work as a toner.
    Blogger’s favorite: Mario Badescu Facial spray mist is a good choice. Sometimes I use the Blithe Patting Splash Mask in Green tea as a mist as well.
  • Cleansing Wipes and Sheet Masks: After a tiring day, you won’t have enough energy to clean your face with the double cleansing. So use a wipe to clean out the face and later wash with a cleanser. Then put on a sheet mask and relax.
    Blogger’s favorite: so many options from Innisfree, Tony Moly to Thank You Farmer
  • Moisturizer Sample: This is the best time to try out those mini samples that you were keeping since forever. They will take less space than full-sized ones.
    Blogger’s favorite: Probiotics Sleeping cream
dsc00337
Mesmerizing Mehnaz’s perfect travel kit

Check out Mesmerizing Mehnaz is on:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/mesmerizingmehnazblog/?fref=ts
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mesmerizingmehnaz/
WordPress: http://mesmerizingmehnaz.com/

Diary of a Makeupholic

Surovi Islam is a makeup enthusiast who provides honest opinions and suggestions with beauty and skincare. She aims to avail beauty solutions for her readers keeping the budget in mind.

Skin care must haves

  • Sunscreen –  A definite must have while traveling or even for day to day.
    Blogger’s favorite:  Banana Boat Sport performance lotion sunscreen with spf 50+
  • Moisturizer  – Carry the one usually used in a mini travel container.
    Blogger’s favorite: Clinique Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief  in 15ml. It’s great for hydration and gives a cool and refreshing feeling afterwards.
  • Makeup remover– To guarantee great skin care this is a must have specially to ensure that our pores stay clean even after a day full of activity.
    Blogger’s favorite: Garnier Micellar cleansing water  in 125 ml.
  • Face Wash – If staying out for even more than a day face wash is definitely something we should carry with us.
    Blogger’s favorite: Neutrogena fresh foaming cleanser or The Body Shop tea tree skin clearing face wash
  • Vaseline – Helps out with dry skin, chapped lips and even can even be an alternative to makeup remover. It will be a life saver when you least expect it.
  • Hair serum – Hair has a way of changing with the weather and what may be perfectly healthy straight hair will become a fizzy mess when going to another place.
    Blogger’s favorite: Body Shop grape seed glossing serum

Makeup must haves

  • Bb cream -Imperfection won’t really work well with either meeting up new people or while taking those perfect travel selfie hence I feel like keeping a bb cream is the best bet as foundation’s might feel to heavy .
    Blogger’s favorite: LA girl pro bb cream
  • Concealer– Fatigue from a journey is definitely seen on your under eyes. A  great way to keep looking fresh during the whole trip is to use a concealer. Always get a shade lighter than your skin tone to get that perfect coverage.
    Blogger’s favorite: LA girl pro concealer
  • Setting powder– Makeup definitely has a tendency to slide off and this will help keep everything in place even if we decided to go hill climbing.
    Blogger’s favorite: Rimmel stay matte pressed powder in shade transparent
  • Eyebrow– Honestly a perfect set of brows are a necessity no matter what look you are going for.
    Blogger’s favorite: Elf eye brow kit
  • Mascara-Let’s face it just a pop of mascara literally makes our face change .We should definitely take a waterproof mascara with us.
    Blogger’s favorite: Maybelline New York Lash Discovery Mini-Brush Waterproof mascara
  • Eyeliner-Another quick way to transform looks is to do a cat eye. I find that the Rimmel scandal eyes waterproof kohl liner are the best as they come in a wide variety of colors for all shades and are water & sweat proof.
  • Blush/bronzer – Long road travels can leave a person looking pale and tired. This is where the blush /bronzer comes it. It will give a fresh healthy look to anyone’s skin.
    Blogger’s favorite: Compact Duos with both blush & bronzer
  • Eye shadow – It’s best to carry a small basic eye shadow palette instead of a huge one with tons of unusual eye shadow color. The lighter shades can also be used as a highlighter.
    Blogger’s favorite: Wet and Wild’s naked truth or Urban Decay’s Naked Basics 2.
  • Lipstick– carry just two shades and you are good to go. One would be a your lips but better shade and another a statement shade.
    Blogger’s favorite: Colorpop’s Bumble or Beeper; Mac’s Ruby woo or Diva

Check out Diary of a Makeupholic on

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/diaryofamakeupholic/?fref=ts
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/diaryofamakeupholic/

 

 

My mom sometimes says looking your best boosts up your day- and I agree to it. I know many of you reading this may disagree and say “why on earth would looks matter when you are out exploring the world?!”. But you cannot deny the fact that you DO pack a new pair of jeans, or perhaps a good pair of shades or even that shirt someone complimented you on. See that is nothing wrong. We all have our own ways to determine, “judge” and perceive beauty. It is perfectly alright to to care about yourself or about how you look.

To me, being beautiful is all about what makes you feel you are in your best shape (to you it may be something different). And if I am out there doing what I love  most, I will most definitely want to look, feel and be the best of me. 

ratatouille_wallpaper_007