From China to India: Gods Own Country

December 3, 2012

We decided to go overland from Shenzhen to Macau. The two hour coach journey from the Railway coach terminal was trouble free apart from the odd experience of the coach staff taking everyone’s individual picture before we departed (we both did our best winning smiles).  The irony was John got shouted out for taking a picture of the bus, but it wasn’t deleted?

The same cannot be said for the border crossing, it was a bit of nightmare taking us two hours of queuing to cross both borders.  The bulk of the time was spent on the Chinese side with appalling slow moving lines with what seemed to be intentionally slow immigration guards stamping and checking at a snail’s place, the same number of people were processed in a fraction of the time on the Macau side.

We don’t know if the ferry from Shenzhen would have been quicker, but it couldn’t possibly have been any worse.     If you have done the ferry let us know and share your travel experience.  I think it must be better than the passport control at the border.

We had very little time in Macau, made much shorter by the slow border processes. Our hotel room was a bit fancy, even for our flashpacking tastes, so we decided to indulge in a bit of ‘in room’ pampering making use of the bath and the cheap Portuguese wine on offer here. So we settled in for a cosy night before our early flight the next day.  The old town and the casinos look very enticing and we will take the trouble of stopping here again on our next jaunt through Asia.

Macau airport is tiny so getting through it was very easy and our flight set off on schedule for the first four hour leg of our journey which would see us visit three airports and three different countries in the space of 24 hours.

Singapore Changi Airport

I have to take time here to mention the pleasure of an eight hour layover in this place.   Yes I did say pleasure.

The airport has a great choice of places to eat; from your famous fast food joints to more local and regional offerings.  While the prices are not cheap by Asian standards they are not ridiculous like some of the airport prices you will find in China (we were once offered a cappuccino in one Chinese airport for the bargain price of US $10 – no thanks)

We were also permitted to check in our luggage with Tiger Airways as soon as we landed (we had two low cost tickets to get to India so no check through baggage)  and after some lunch went air-side to indulge in some airport hospitality.   This included a free leg massage, comfy seating, TV screens with news, films and sports on offer, ample power points and free wifi.

There was also a Seven Eleven next to the Bloomberg lounge, which we had occupied as our own private lounge, so we had access to cheap beer and snacks to while the time away until our flight took off.    John also worked his way through the free tasting of premium spirits on offer at the duty free stores and we both anointed ourselves with the latest and most expensive  facial treatments, eye cream and premium aftershaves at the cosmetic counters.  Pampering and relaxation all for free.

We spent $30 all day between us at the airport, had a good two course lunch, a massage, facial, relaxed, smelt divine and got loads of blog work done. I call that good value, oh and there are ample smoking lounges to satisfy the smokers amongst you.

If you spot a cheap flight that requires hanging around Changi airport for a bit, do not hesitate, you can easily keep yourself comfortable and amused here.    I also got to see a minor celebrity from yesteryear and shared a fag in the smoking room with the one and only Mark Lamarr of the Word/Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame – that will mean nothing to none British readers.

I was a tiny bit sad to leave Changi which had become our home for the day, but we were also very excited to be heading to India.

The Allure of India

India has charmed us twice already in the form of holidays in Goa and we were yearning to get back to explore much more of the country.  We headed out from Changi for the final four hour flight of the day and touched down in Kochi at just before midnight local time.   Sadly for us still on south East Asian time it was 2.30 in the morning in our heads.

It was at this point we were delighted that we had decided to stay in an airport hotel for the first night. Our driver met us at the gates and whisked us to our room within ten minutes.   The room was luxurious and it was a real shame we couldn’t make more use of it, as our bodies hit the beds were fast asleep.

The hotel dropped us back at the airport the next morning and we feasted on an Indian breakfast of potato curry, roti and sweet cardamom chai (which we had been craving since getting the taste for it in Malaysia and Burma) before hopping on the airport bus to Fort Kochi, our first stop in Kerala.  Kerala is commonly known as “God’s Own Country”.  It is not the only place we’ve visited on this trip using this moniker, but it does seem particularly apt given the beauty and vastness of this Indian state.

We have decided to try out some local homestays on our first leg of India and see how things go.   They are a little hard to find as very few, if any, advertise on the big accommodation sites, but most have their own websites.  We found the Goodkarma and it proved to be a great little place.   You can get a double here for 800 or 1200 Rp. with Aircon.  The rooms are spotlessly clean and come with wifi (the ones on the 1st floor at the back will struggle to connect) and also with the charm of the owners brothers Shyam and Anoob.  They are extremely helpful with travel tips to get you around Fort Kochi and with any trips or bookings you need. The younger brother also has a very wicked sense of humour.

Getting things done in India

We knew getting things done in India is very easy if you leave plenty of time and don’t try to rush them.  Within the first few hours of arrival we were wandering the street sorting mobile phones, ordering contact lenses and being distracted by a brass band practising before an evening stroll to find some Indian food and bottle of Kingfisher to welcome us back to India.

We ended up at the Seagull on the main river road as it is one of the few bars to legally sell alcohol here.  There are some hefty licence fees and taxes to pay on beer sales, so it is not as readily available as Goa.   You will pay anything from 100 to 150 Rupees for a beer at the licensed bars and restaurants.  Still not expensive by western standards though.

The seagull has two bars, one for locals and one specially tarted up for tourists.  We had our first drink in the one with the locals where John managed to get nearer to a local price for a beer (110)  before moving on to the tourist bar to eat and insisting we still pay the local price and not the 130 they were asking in there.  The evening dinner of dry fried spicy prawn curry, dhal and chapattis with a little bit of fried fresh squid on the side went down lovely with a beer watching the water on the Vembanad Lake.

Taking things slower

After hurtling through Korea and China it has been a real treat to wallow in the more relaxed pace of India, I know that may sound strange to some, but Kerala and specifically Fort Kochi really does take things at a slightly slower and easy pace.  We were relaxed within hours of arriving and we had not even had a massage yet.  The owner of the guest house summed it up when we asked if he wanted us to pay for our first night when checking in.  No he says you unpack settle in sleep well and you pay when you are rested.

The best thing we are discovering about here is the ridiculously low auto rickshaw prices.  We pay around 25 – 50 US cents for trips about town and you can hire them by the hour to whisk you round to your chosen destinations.   Don’t always go for the cheapest hourly offer though or you may spend most of your time in their ‘friends’ silk, rug and wood carving emporiums.   Thankfully this was something we were aware of so paid around 150 – 200 rupees for a couple of hours to be shop free on our sightseeing itinerary.

We decided it is time to ditch some of our jackets and clothes and have sent a parcel back home.  This was a real experience, the parcel was first packed in a box then has to go to the tailors to have a cotton cover, made to measure. which is then sealed at the top with wax before being delivered to the post office to send home.  It should take about three weeks by ‘air mail’ they told us.   I guess it’s going by balloon.  We’ll see if it gets there…  We were told by numerous people not to place anything electronic in the parcel as the chances of arriving would be slim, we accepted this advice.

Reunited with my Timepiece

I was given a beautiful lightweight Breil watch before I left on our around the world trip, I loved it.  Sadly, despite the fact that it says it was good for 5 ATM on the back, it got water in when I took it down to a mere 15M when diving.  Bad bad Breil.  I had tried to get it fixed at a few places in Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok, all took the back off and said its ruined, can’t be repaired it’s all electronic. I was very sad as I loved this watch and India was my last hope.

I took it to a man down a backstreet who removed the back, took one look and said come back at eight that evening, if I fix it 150 Rp, if not, no charge.   I returned on time and he had a sad face, I thought he too had written it off, then he turned the watch round to me and smiled as he saw that I could see the second hand ticking merrily away.  I nearly kissed him.

So what you can’t do in the rest of Asia you can get done in India all for (US $2.50) I gave him a generous tip in lieu of a kiss, which I am sure he preferred and walked away with a big smile on my face. I love India just for that alone, who needs the Taj Mahal.

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  1. I fell head over heels for Kochi when I visited about a year ago. It has a strangely European feel for an Indian town. Somewhere I could quite happily live.

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