Ditch the tourist trail : How to experience the ‘Hidden Gems’ of Vietnam under 500 USD ?

Once upon a time, the very mention of Vietnam brought up images of a war-torn country, but Vietnam has zoomed past it all to become a popular backpacker destination. I could go on and on about how beautiful the country is, but I’ll get straight to the point – On what you need to know if you’re planning a trip to places off-the-tourist-trail in Vietnam.

Why Vietnam?

  1. For the Caves :-
    Vietnam has some of the best caves in the world, which were discovered barely 10-15 years ago. These caves are relatively unknown and a perfect spot for young backpackers.

    paradise 1
    Paradise Cave, Vietnam
  2. For the Canyoning in Da Lat (I missed this one, but you should add this to your itinerary)

    canyoning da lat
    Canyoning in Da Lat
  3. Vietnam is among the best street food destinations in the world.
  4. Extremely Cheap flights from anywhere in Asia (Round trip under US$ 200), and Visa-on-Arrival.
  5. For NIT Surathkal folks :- To continue the ‘trendsetter Pranav Bhatt’s’ legacy of taking a selfie in Ho Chi Minh City.

Continue reading “Ditch the tourist trail : How to experience the ‘Hidden Gems’ of Vietnam under 500 USD ?”


Everything a beginner should know about Surfing in South India

Good Friday weekend was coming up, and my university friend Anirudh & I decided to go on a surfing trip for four days.
Mantra Surf Club, which is located quite close to our alma mater NIT Surathkal, became our first choice for surfing. Such an irony, that we lived so close to Mantra Surf Club during the four years of our college and never went there, and had to make a trip all the way from Bangalore after we graduated.

Why surfing?

  • The weather’s extremely hot from March to May, making it difficult to go on a trek. Hence surfing is a good holiday plan.
  • It’s quite cheap to take a few beginner lessons in India, and then try out surfing in the beaches of Thailand, Bali etc. Indian shores are relatively calmer and ideal for beginners.
  • To cross an item on your bucket list :- When you do something that scares you, you’ll always come back with stories worth telling.

When is the best time to go for surfing?

October to May.
During the monsoon, the waves are quite strong, making it difficult for beginners to learn.
Towards the end of May, there are some surfing competitions held for professionals, and most surf schools don’t have any lessons at that time. So it’s ideal to plan your trip before mid-May.

Where can you learn surfing in South India?

Here’s a listicle mentioning all the spots in India. And here’s another one.

Karnataka has three surf schools. One each in Mangalore, Udupi and Gokarna. Mantra Surf Club was the first surf school in India.

We chose Mantra Surf Club since it is situated at a 15 minute distance from NIT Surathkal campus. Shamanth & Kiran are the best instructors here, and you should opt to learn from them.

A few other surf schools on the west cost are Shaka Surf Club (Udupi), Cocopelli Surf School (Gokarna),  Soul & Surf  (Varkala), and there’s one in Kovallam and Goa too.

mantra surf
View from Mantra surf club in the evening. (Photo Credit : Shamanth)

Where to stay?

All the surf schools have accommodation facilities, and there are low cost options outside too.

– If you’re going to Mantra surf club, then there are a few good hotels in Mukka and Surathkal. An AC room would cost around INR 1500 per night. However, the surf schools have some adventure activities in the evening, and I’d recommend you to stay there if you’re travelling solo or in a small group.
We wanted to meet our college folks and chose to not stay in the surf ashram.

– For Shaka surf club, hotels close to Manipal would be ideal.

– Varkala, Goa & Kovallam are touristy places and there are a lot of options for stay. Vedanta Wakeup is a budget backpacker hostel in Varkala, & there’s Zostel in Gokarna

What to carry?

– Carry a full sleeved polyester t-shirt like this one.
– Board shorts, Swimming goggles & Sunscreen
The surf schools will provide all the surfing equipment, and its rent is included in the session price.

Do I need an instructor? How many lessons should I take before jumping into the water?

  • Hire an instructor for atleast 3-4 days to get a hang of the sport. An instructor would be able to correct your techniques and teach you how to catch the wave.
  • At Mantra Surf Club, each day’s session goes on for 3 hours. At the end of your third day, you’ll be good enough to stand on the board atleast for a few seconds, and surf all the way to the shore. After that it’s all about practice.
  • Since three days is a very small duration, watch a few theory videos on youtube before you go for your first lesson, so that you can quickly grasp everything that the instructor teaches you.

I’ve found a pretty good youtube video that explains how to paddle and pop-up.


Here’s a video of me & Anirudh learning to pop-up, before we went into the water.


Check out the video of these 10 year old kids surfing at Mantra  Surf Club.  Looking at these kids surf so well should inspire you to make your first surfing trip.

Do I need to know how to swim?

Not at all.
As a beginner, the water will only be at waist height, so it isn’t necessary to know how to swim. Knowing how to swim becomes critical, only if you’re going deep into the sea.

How deep is the water? Is it risky? Will I drown?

You’ll be in the seas, but only upto waist height. We had to carry our surf boards into the sea and then ride along the wave back to the shore.
The surfboard always floats in the water, and since the waves always push you towards the shore, there isn’t any real risk of drowning.
A few waves are quite high (>7ft), and might topple your board and throw you in the water. But that’s the fun in any adventure sport. Isn’t it?

surf 3
Group picture after Day 3 !


surfing 4
With Anirudh, at the end of the fourth day !

Beginner Tips

  • The long surf board is your best friend. I first used a shorter one, and found it hard to pop-up. With the longer board, the difference was evident – it became a lot easier to stand.
  • Beginners are usually given softer boards, which is made from soft foam, since it doesn’t hurt much if the board accidentally hits your head or face.
  • A little bit of fitness helps, since paddling requires sturdy arms.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Well that’s all with the ‘beginner gyan’.

Learning to surf requires patience. It’s okay if you miss catching a wave or lose balance whenever you try to pop-up. It’s okay if a strong wave topples your board or pushes you to the shore.
Because the best surfing holiday isn’t about catching the most number of waves – It’s about having the most fun.

What more questions do you have?  Comment on this post, and I’ll answer them 🙂

The solitary wanderer in Sri Lanka (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from the first part of the blog

The Itinerary (continued)

Day 3 to Day 5 – Galle, Unawatuna, Mirissa, Matara 

I took the morning train from Colombo to Galle, and found myself a window seat facing the oceans.
Compared to the huge network of Indian railways, Sri Lanka is more like a toy train, and all the more better because it’s less crowded, less strenuous and much shorter in distance. Inside the trains, hawkers pass through the compartments, selling peanuts and other local delicacies, which is totally reminiscent of our “desi train journeys”.
During the three hour train ride, with my earphones plugged in, I gazed out of the window to breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. This is partly intimidating especially when the tides are high, as the trains are exposed to the vagaries of the seas. A local passenger told me that during the 2004 tsunami, the waves threw the trains off the track, killing nearly all passengers on-board. I had a peculiar feeling, when I was told that the world’s worst ever train disaster occurred a decade ago on the very same rails that I was riding. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking the trains, as you’re going to see views like these :–

Train ride across the Sri Lankan coast
Train ride

Where to stay in Unawatuna?

Hostel Unawatuna – This is a place where you switch off and enjoy life, and is definitely best hostel I’ve stayed in Sri Lanka. I went there for one night, and ended up staying two, because it was really lovely to come here as a solo-traveller and meet some truly interesting people. Infact I met three of these travellers – Luke, James and Niamh again in Bangalore too. We had a barbeque on Friday night in Hostel Unawatuna; and this hostel is definitely a part of the ‘Unawatuna experience’.

I spent most of my time in Unawatuna strolling around the Unawatuna beach, which was my favourite beach in Sri Lanka. It has everything you’ll want – amazing view, restaurants and cafes facing the beach and a funky(Goa-type) atmosphere.

Tents at Hostel Unawatuna
Unawatuna beach at sunset!

Continue reading “The solitary wanderer in Sri Lanka (Part 2 of 2)”

The solitary wanderer in Sri Lanka (Part 1/2)

Country side sunset (Day 6 of my Sri Lanka trip)

Click here to jump straight to the second part.

The plan was to travel.
It didn’t matter where, as long as it fit my budget.

A day before my 23rd birthday, I called up a university friend in Colombo asking her whether it was a okay to travel across Sri Lanka in the month of August. She said ‘Yes’, and my destination was decided instantly. The plan was to fly to Colombo four days after that phone call, and I tried to convince a few friends to join me, but no one was ready to come on such a short notice. My friends probably thought that I was crazy to go on such an impromptu trip, but nothing changed my mind, and I ended up travelling solo.

Wandering across Sri Lanka without a proper plan, I’ve lived through a myriad of ‘random’ experiences. It started with nearly being broke after landing at the airport, because I wasn’t able to convert my Indian currency to Sri Lankan rupees. I had another night when I was surrounded by a few drunk auto-drivers at 9pm in an almost empty town, and somehow managed to escape without being mugged. This blog post is a collection of all my ‘random’ experiences solo travelling across Sri Lanka, and travel advice for anyone who’s looking to backpack across this teardrop island in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka has recovered from twenty five years of civil war, as well as the devastating 2004 tsunami. While travelling along the coast of Sri Lanka, I came across a few hollow deserted buildings by the side of the ocean, that were devastated a decade ago by the tsunami waves. But now, this island is experiencing a revival, and is growing fast as a travel destination.

With my backpack, at Chennai Airport!

Why Sri Lanka?

Great place for water sports such as kitesurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing etc.
Visa on arrival for Indians.
Cheap Flights from India. (My return tickets costed US$200 i.e INR 13,000 inspite of booking it only four days before departure).
Low cost destination for Indians for international travel.
Lots of backpacker hostels in nearly every city. Makes it a great place to meet fellow travellers.

Continue reading “The solitary wanderer in Sri Lanka (Part 1/2)”

A Solo Traveller’s Guide to Hampi

At Hampi, the past comes alive. It’s a journey into the world of kings, battles, magnificent monuments and tales of the bygone era.

I was getting bored of my routine life in Bangalore, and a solo trip to Hampi seemed like a really good escape. Most of my travel plans are made on the spur of the moment, and this one was no different. I booked my bus tickets one afternoon, and left for Hampi the  very same night; without a cellphone or any gadgets and without any travel plan.


hampi - virupaksha temple
Virupaksha Temple – The first thing that you’ll see when you reach Hampi

Disclaimer: Most pics in this blog post have been taken from google. I went for this trip without a cellphone.

Why go to Hampi? 

  • Peaceful place; away from the chaos of city life. Forget 3G, most areas barely any phone network.
  • To spend a night in Hampi’s ‘Hippie Island’.
    Hippie island is a backpacker’s paradise and is on the list of every wanderlust lover. Come to this island for solace :p
  • It’s just an overnight journey from Bangalore/Hyderabad :-
    Hampi is probably the best destination in South India for a ‘weekend backpacking experience’.
  • For a cycling tour to explore all the ancient ruins, the forgotten marvels,  the religious history, and architectural beauty.
  • For the open-air restaurants, replete with travellers, where you can sit for however long you want.


Continue reading “A Solo Traveller’s Guide to Hampi”

Exploring Pondicherry through its cafes:- Must try food joints in Pondy

One fine day, my high school friend from Dubai, called me saying, “Hey, I’ll come to India, lets go on a trip together?”. I said yes, and a couple of days later he was here, in India.
Over the next few days, we were high on adventure and spontaneity, and Pondicherry was the first leg of that crazy trip.

Located about 400km from Bangalore, and 180km from Chennai, Pondicherry is an amazing place to just chill and “do nothing”.  If you’re looking for sight-seeing experience, or for a proper ‘traveller’ type experience, then let me warn you, Pondicherry is sure to disappoint you.  You can see everything that is there to see in Pondicherry in a single day. The best way to experience Pondicherry is through its cuisines, and below are the food joints I think you should check out the next time you head there.


Continue reading “Exploring Pondicherry through its cafes:- Must try food joints in Pondy”