What to Know Before Going and What to do in Bangkok

What do to in Bangkok Buddha Golden Temple

Bangkok was my very first Southeast-Asian experience and I was very excited about it. It represented a completely different world to all that I had known and the fulfillment of a dream of many years. Unfortunately I could only spend 4 days in this extraordinary city, so I had to select very well what to do in Bangkok in that short period of time.

But beyond travel guides, knowing a few locals was what provided me with the most remarkable experiences there. So here I’m sharing the highlights of my stay and a definitive list of what to do in Bangkok if you want to experience it fully but are also short on time!

Bangkok night
View of Bangkok at night time

Sawasdee kha!

Bangkok is the exciting, fast-paced capital of Thailand. It’s a city of contrasts: you will see cutting-edge skyscrapers shadowing shantytowns on the banks of the river. You can go to frenetic markets selling typical Thai products at a bargain price just out of colossal commercial centers selling the world’s biggest brands. You can go to sublime, peaceful temples after spending a frantic night in some of the craziest nightclubs in Southeast Asia.

Shanty Town Bangkok
Shanty town alongside the River Chao Phraya in Bangkok

I spent 4 days in the city, and for me that was just enough. Bangkok has a lot to offer and one year wouldn’t be enough to visit all its hidden gems. But 4 days are definitely sufficient to visit the major sites and experience a bit of this vibrant and hectic city. Plus, it leaves you time to see some of the lesser known places too.

Thai Food

Bangkok is home to true culinary delights and some of the best cheap-eats in the world. From fine dining restaurants to street food stalls, Bangkok caters to almost every taste. You can find some of the best dishes in the city in the most unexpected and unpretentious stalls.

My CouchSurfing host took me to a street stall with plastic chairs on the sidewalk, which was his favorite restaurant in Bangkok! (Sorry, I don’t remember the name!) There I had my very first, delicious, authentic, cheap, locally recommended street Thai food. I had a Pad Thai, which is still my favorite Thai dish and for dessert we had mango sticky rice. Yum!

On another occasion, I met a Thai friend whom I had first met in Venice and we traveled together to Pisa in 2009. She took me to a restaurant near Siam Square. It was packed with locals (always a good sign) and she ordered so much food that it just didn’t fit on the table! Needless to say, everything was delicious!

Thai Food Local
My Thai friend and I at the restaurant in Siam Square

And to top it off, on my last day I went to the 7th best restaurant in town at the time. If you’re thinking it was some luxurious and expensive place, you’re flat wrong. It was nothing more than, once again, a stall and some plastic chairs and tables on the street. But what came out of that stall was simply out of this world.

Street food ban

Surprisingly, the current military government is willing to ban all street food from Bangkok, in the interests of ‘cleanliness, safety and order’. Local authorities announced that Chinatown and the backpacker area of Khao San Road are the next to face the street-food ban. After that, one would only find typical Thai food in covered malls, duly sterile and well-ordered for the tourists ‘comfort’.

This sounds absolutely absurd to me for many reasons. Street food is one of the richness of the country. Not only tourists consume it but also (and mainly) Thai people, who rely on it daily. This also means that many vendors would lose their jobs. I don’t really know whether there is anything we can do to avoid it. But I strongly believe this is an immeasurable loss for the country. Banning street food in Bangkok is banning much of it’s essence and character. It would mean a tremendous cultural, economic and social loss. For me it is as bad as banning people from going to the beach in Rio.

Funny fact: Thais eat ‘real food’ for breakfast, such as rice, meat and noodles!

Hot hint (actually cold!): to cope with the hot weather, get yourself a Chanomyen or Thai Iced Tea, made of Black Tea, milk and sugar. Superb!

Couchsurfing in Thailand

I found it impossible to find Thai hosts on CourchSurfing. It seems that the population is not really used to this network. I could only use CS in Thailand’s biggest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. And even then I only got to stay with foreign hosts. I’d say if you are lucky to find a local host, read the profile and references thoroughly. This is just as to avoid any complication, since CS doesn’t seem to be much used in the country.

In Bangkok, I did CouchSurfing on the first 2 nights. My host was a Canadian guy who was working as a Maths and Psychology teacher in Bangkok. He was really nice and gave me a lot of tips and valuable information about what to do in Bangkok (as a good CS host).

Thai Mythical Creatures
Statues of Thai Mythical Creatures in Wat Pho

The rest of the time I stayed with a university friend, who had moved to Bangkok and opened a gym there. His main reasons were security and the living costs. It really surprised me when he said ‘security’. I just assumed Bangkok would be particularly dangerous, being this hectic, developing mega-city. But he said the crime rate is very low and the city is in general a very safe place. One just needs the same kind of care and attention they’d have in any other big city. This made me relax and stop walking around feeling so paranoid at every tuk-tuk driver that reached me.

Khao San Road

On the first evening my CS host took me on his scooter to Khao San Road. This is Bangkok’s shopping-bar-backpackers paradise. You’ll see lots of beautifully tanned tourists walking in shorts and flip-flops, amid stalls with bizarre barbecued insects and stacks of backpacker’s fashions, such as elephant print t-shirts. I almost lost control, because I go crazy about elephants and Ganesh-inspired themes.

Khao San Road offers multiple guesthouses, but even if you’re staying somewhere else (like I was), the area is definitely worth a visit at night time, being a great place to go party and meet other travelers.

Alternatively, you could also head to a rooftop bar for some drinks with one of the most magnificent views you can imagine. Bangkok has many rooftop bars, such as the Moon Bar or the Sukhumvit Thonglor.

Ratanakosin

On the next morning (my first actual day in the city) I took a ferry to visit the area of Ratanakosin, the royal island. Here is where you’ll find the city’s most important sights. The island was artificially created by the construction of defensive channels after the sacking of the old capital, Ayutthaya. The island hosts the Grand Palace, the National Museum and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

All main tourist attractions are within a walking distance from each other. But it’s best to get an early start, as most of them close at 15:30.

Wat Phra Kaew or the Grand Palace

The central and most important construction is the Grand Palace and contiguous royal temple Wat Phra Kaew. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The Grand Palace officially opened in 1785 and marked the founding of the new capital and the rebirth of the Thai nation after the Burmese invasion.

Golden Temple Bangkok
Golden stupa at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.

Right after you enter, through the Gates of Glorious Victory, you have an enticing view of the temple’s glittering spires on the left. The inside of the temple is as hypnotizing as the outside: pay attention to the details everywhere, from the flagstones to the roof, and the walls with murals from the Ramayana. The grounds contain more than 100 buildings, so leave at least 2 hours to visit the Grand Palace and explore the other minor (but not less interesting) buildings, statues, murals and gardens.  It is definitely one of the most unbelievable set of constructions I’ve ever seen.

Visitors should dress smartly: women should wear pants or skirts below the knees and men should wear trousers. Because such garments are not so compatible with the local climate, you can easily rent skirts and pants from the office to the right just inside the entrance gate. They are free, but you have to leave a deposit of B200.

Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho is located directly south of the Grand Palace. It hosts a 46m-long reclining Buddha and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. Being the oldest temple in Bangkok, it is also considered the birthplace of Thai massage, the earliest center for public education in Thailand and a school of Thai medicine.

Reclining Buddha
Gigantic 46m-long and 15m-high reclining Buddha

To get into the temple you have to take off your shoes and stand in a long line, but it’s worth the wait. The reclining Buddha is fascinating and it gave me a sense of humbleness and veneration. The Buddha, depicted entering Nirvana, is almost as big as the chapel, not leaving enough room for a photo with good perspective. You’ll have to chose between a close-up view of his 15m high head and the 4.5 m-long feet, which depict 108 auspicious symbols that distinguish a true Buddha.

If you hear coins chinking, don’t be surprised: there are 108 bowls along one side of the statue and it’s said that putting a coin on each of them will bring you luck!

Even though the main attraction at Wat Pho is the gigantic reclining Buddha, the temples, stupas and statues that surround it are also mesmerizing and for a few seconds I wondered if I was already on the grounds of the Grand Palace.

The River Chao Phraya

River Chao Phraya Temples
Temples viewed from the ferry on the River Chao Phraya

When in Bangkok, don’t miss a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River. Bangkok’s cross river ferries are not only the main means of transportation for locals, but also a unique experience for tourists. You’ll get to see the skyline of business buildings, punctuated by beautiful temples, slums, markets, cargo boats and much more. You can take the Public River Ferry from the Central Pier and go up and down the river for less than U$ 1!

Shopping in Bangkok

shopping mall Bangkok
Visiting one of the magnificent Shopping Malls in Bangkok

Bangkok is the ultimate shopping paradise. Even though this was not my main focus, I went to some of the biggest shopping centers just to have a look. If you’re looking for posh fashion and brands, go to the Siam region, where you’ll find huge shopping centers such as Central World, Siam Paragon, Emporium, Siam Center and Siam Discovery.

Bangkok is home to one of the biggest street markets in the world: the Chatuchak Weekend Market. With some 15 thousand stalls, it has everything you might ever (or never) need. You can also visit the awesome floating markets around the city for a real Thai experience, such as the Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan.

Chinatown

The Chinatown in Bangkok is the country’s largest Chinese district. It has an extension of narrow railways with temples and shops, many of which selling gold and jewelry, but also teas and random Chinese parafernalia. During the day it is a shopping area and at night it turns into a street food paradise.

Traffic Jam and Air Quality

Bangkok has 4/5 of the country’s automobiles and traffic is a major problem in the city. Despite the Skytrain and subway lines, it is still difficult to get around the city, mainly during rush hours. One solution was the implementation of side-street motorbike taxis, which are pretty helpful if you’re traveling alone. Tuk-tuks are also a practical means of transportation through the city for a bargain.

tuk tuk Bangkok
Tuk-tuk and motorbike taxis – some of the best ways of getting around in Bangkok

Moreover, Bangkok suffers largely with pollution: the city has the lowest rate of green area per inhabitant in the world. While London has 30.4 square meters of public parkland per person, Bangkok has only 0.4. As a result of this, the air quality decreases and the rate of respiratory diseases increases.

If the choking fumes get too bad, you can choose to take a break and visit Lumpini Park. It’s a haven of fresh air, shade and tranquility in Bangkok. My CouchSurfing host lived just a few blocks from the park and it was great to have this place of peacefulness to rest after a hot, noisy and hectic day in Bangkok.

Climate and when to go

Bangkok is always hot. When I was there I ran out of energy every day at around 3pm, just because it was so hot and chaotic. The best time to visit is from November to January, when it’s humid but still comfortable. The rainy season spans from May to November and brings afternoon showers after warm and humid days. The least ideal time to visit is between March and May, because that’s when the temperatures are the highest.

How to dress in Bangkok

When I got to Thailand, I thought it would be much more conservative regarding clothes (like in India). I got a taxi from the airport and the amount of people wearing tiny shorts and skirts startled me.

Monks Golden Temple
Watch out for the dress code when visiting a Thai Temple

In Thailand it’s common and socially accepted to wear short clothes that are fresher and expose more of your body. However, remember that to enter most temples you are expected to wear respectful clothes. That means shirts with sleeves, long pants of skirts and shoes. If you’re wearing sandals, make sure to take socks, because some temples don’t allow bare feet. Most of the times, you can rent or borrow some proper garment at the entrance or from street vendors, who wisely seize the opportunity of having tourists melting of heat in their city.

All in all

You can call it hectic, crowded, noisy, but Bangkok is still a must-see. It is one of the leading economies in Southeast Asia and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It has breathtaking temples, amazing nightlife, mouthwatering and cheap food everywhere and it’s a great place for shopping. I hope you enjoyed this post with recommendations of what to do in Bangkok!

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

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12 things you need to know when planning a trip to India

Traveling to India?

Here are a few vital things to know when planning a trip to India.

India is a mesmerizing country. Its history, culture, people, landscape and traditions make it a fascinating must-see.

It’s not the easiest place to travel, but it’s so worth the effort!

There are a few things I wish I had been told before I embarked on my journey, a few vital things to be aware of.

I remember when I decided to travel India alone, people said I was crazy, that I didn’t know what I was doing. They said I was going to be kidnapped, raped or some other horrible thing would happen to me.

But I just replied, “C’mon! I come from Brazil! Do you really think I can be that easily scared?” Besides, I had a lot of friends who had already been to India (including my mom 3 times) and who had told me about their experiences, so I really believed I knew everything I needed to know about it.

Wishful thinking. All the psychological preparation I thought I had was not enough. India surprised me in many ways. Most of the times positively, as a fascinating, colorful, culturally rich country. But unfortunately sometimes negatively too.

So here are 10 things I wish people had told me about India.

1 – Indian Food

Meat

India is mostly a vegetarian country. The cow is considered sacred to Hindus and should not be eaten. In fact, in some states people who are found to have eaten beef can face death penalties, which obviously causes big friction with the followers of other religions, such as muslims.

Cow Sacred India
A cow decided to join our picture in Jaisalmer – they are considered sacred in India

If you like eating meat and can’t live without it, you can find chicken in most restaurants, as well as fish in the south. Pork might be a bit harder, but you can find it too.

If you’re a vegetarian, welcome to paradise! I am and I just loved having 90% of all menus fit for me. There were so many delicious options! Each region has their typical dishes and specialties. Indian food can be pretty oily and spicy, but in many places you can also savor some delicious natural or Ayurvedic dishes, with lots of sprouts and legumes.

If you’re a vegan, you might find it a little bit hard to eat in India, since much of its cuisine is based on milk and dairy products. But it shouldn’t be harder than in any other western country.

Another thing worth mentioning is that most indians eat with their hands. They use a chapati  (flat bread) to kind of scoop the food, which is usually liquid. If you don’t feel comfortable eating with your hands, most places also provide cutlery. I found it an interesting experience, which made me more aware of what and how I was eating.

Drinking Alcohol and Coffee in India

Hindus generally don’t drink alcohol and it’s rare to see them drinking coffee.

I must have had a coffee or beer twice during the whole period I was in India. I didn’t really miss it, because my aim was to study Yoga and kind of ‘detox’, so I was happy enough to replace it with a traditional, delicious chai. But if you’re the kind of person who needs a caffeine fix or a beer, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.

India Food
Dining at a restaurant in Pune – In India you eat with your hands

Food Poisoning and Avoiding Delhi Belly

I’ve heard some horror stories of people who had really bad food poisoning in India. One friend of mine even had to leave the country due to serious dehydration. I had also heard about the ashram runs (do I need to explain the term?) and was a bit concerned about it. But I didn’t have anything at all in the whole period I stayed in India.

It was probably a combination of luck and caution from my part. I only ate street food from places that were personally recommended. Maybe my tummy was already used to weird foreign food too (from Brazil, Morocco, Bolivia and so on). But always take some activated charcoal and other preventative medicine just in case.

2 – How to Dress in India

Sari India
Sari is a long cloth that is wrapped around the body

In India, the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is particularly important when it comes to dress code. Mainly for women, I’d recommend wearing indian-looking clothes. Not necessarily a sari (that long cloth that they wrap around themselves), but a Salwar Kameez, which consists of a tunic top and loose trousers narrow at the ankle, or just normal legging pants.

It’s not only better for your own safety (you’ll be less noticed and will expose less of your body), but they also appreciate it very much. Many people thanked me for respecting their culture and dressing like an Indian in their country.

Yes, it is warm and you’ll feel like going out in singlets and shorts. And I saw some girls walking like that in Delhi and Mumbai. Although I’d love to be in their clothes, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes (by the looks and whistles they were getting).

Salwar Kameez
Wearing a Salwar Kameez in Ranakpur, composed by a tunic and legging pants

3 – Languages in India

According to the last census, India has 122 major languages and 1600 other minor ones. The most spoken language by far is Hindi, with about half the population using it as their first language. English is up until now very much used and is for many Indians their first language. Many schools and most universities teach in English.

Then you have many languages which are spoken in the different states as the first language. It’s not hard to meet an Indian whose first language is their state language (for example Marathi in the state of Maharashtra), followed by Hindi, English and maybe even a fourth language.

You’ll be able to get around India speaking English, but I always think it’s nice to learn some basic words of the native language.

Useful words in Hindi

  • Hi – Namaste
  • Bye – Phir Milenge or simply bye
  • Yes – Haan
  • No – Nahi
  • Please – Kripya
  • Thank you – Dhanyavad
  • Sorry – Kshama or Maaf kijiye

4 – Gender Roles in India

There is still a big gender inequity in India, with many men believing they have a greater say than their partner in important decisions, forcing their partners to have sex, as well as determining what they can wear and do. Men are also considered closer to attaining spiritual liberation than women.

Gender Roles India
Some women work really hard in India; others are discouraged to work. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

I talked to many men who just couldn’t understand why western women wanted to work and have financial independence. They believed the man is supposed to provide for the family and the woman should be respectful and grateful for that and stay at home raising the family. (I don’t have anything against a stay-at-home mom, if that’s what she wants to do. I just don’t agree with forcing the woman to stay at home and forbidding her from having a job). Some guys talked about it in a sweet way though. They could barely wait to have a wife and be able to pamper her and do everything for her. As you may have noticed, gender equality is another controversial topic.

However, I also met girls who studied and had jobs and were in a happy relationship with their partners. So there is some change happening too, towards decreasing the gender gap.

Sexual Orientation

It is common to see men holding hands in the street, but not so often to see women doing it. Men do it as a sign of friendly affection rather than loving. As a matter of fact, homossexuality is still a major taboo and not so many people come out publicly. I didn’t see any homossexual public display of affection and I’ve heard that most homossexuals remain undercover even after they got married (to someone of the other sex).

One thing worth mentioning is the Hijras or transgender women (originally born men). They are considered by some as good luck and by others as a curse. You may see them asking for money in trains and often in weddings, in exchange for blessings.

5 – Arranged Marriage in India

This is another very controversial topic. I was surprised to see that in India there are still a lot of arranged marriages and that  in many cases the young people agree with it. I assumed they would rebel and refuse to get married to someone chosen by their parents. But I talked to many young people who told me “who can be better than our parents, who have known us all our lives, to choose the best person for us?” Apart from that, the arranged marriages are based on caste, astrology and other family business in some cases.

Some arranged marriages work

Arranged marriage India
Woman and kids in the desert in Rajasthan – arranged marriages are still very present in India. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

I met a girl who lived in Delhi, went to University and wore modern, western clothes, which just made me believe she would be against it. Surprisingly, she invited me to her wedding, which had been arranged by her family and was supposed to happen a few months from then. She had met the groom once and was really excited about it. Recently, I’ve seen photos of them online and saw that they just had a baby. They seem to be really happy and in love. Many times it does work out.

 

Sometimes it doesn’t work at all

However, I met another Indian girl in Mumbai who had run away from her husband because he cloistered and hit her. She told me that after she left him she decided to become an air hostess and on her free time she traveled around the world. She also told me that her ex-husband said that if he sees her again he might kill her.

There are love marriages too

I also met people who looked much more traditional (at least in the way they dressed and behaved), but they had had a love-marriage, which was accepted by their families.

And secret weddings

Last but not least, I met young people who had partners but still hadn’t told their parents, because they knew they wouldn’t accept it. I met this guy in Mumbai who was together with a swiss girl and they were planning to get married in Switzerland. He told me he’d only tell his family after the wedding.

Relationships

Unless you’re in a beach in Goa, you don’t really see explicit public demonstrations of affection in India, like people kissing or hooking up in public. So if you go with your partner, I’d say it’s okay to walk holding hands and quickly kiss, but leave the long, wet kisses for the hotel room.

I didn’t see many dating couples either and met many people my age who had never kissed or had sex.

6 – Dirtiness

Dirtiness India
India can be a really dirty country. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

Unfortunately most of the big cities in India are very dirty. There is waste in the street, everywhere. I got tired of seeing people finishing their snacks on the train and just throwing the package out of the window. And when everyone does that, it is hard to enforce the contrary.

I also saw people defecating alongside the train tracks and dead animals being eaten up by vultures on the sidewalk. I think the situation is slowly changing for the better, but if you’re planning a trip to India, it’s better to be prepared for some filthiness.

7 – Traffic in India

If there are really 330 million gods in India, I’m pretty sure one of them takes care of the traffic.

Traffic India
An elephant crosses my way on a road in Rajasthan

Traffic in India is insane. Nothing in this world could have prepared me for that. When I first arrived at the Mumbai International Airport and got on a rickshaw, I thought I was going to die every 20 seconds. Literally.

After 2 months, that rate had lowered to once every 2 minutes. I don’t know how they can do it, but they do it. They manage to drive in narrow streets and share the lanes with thousands of rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, bikes and of course animals. Mostly cows, which are not to be disturbed, even if they are obstructing the road. But I also saw elephants, camels, goats, pigs, monkeys, dogs, and chicken.

Traffic jams

Traffic jams are a major problem in big cities. I had the chance to experience staying stuck for 4 hours (you read that right, FOUR hours) on the same street in Delhi. That made my 2-hour-stuck-in-traffic-in-Sao-Paulo experiences seem like a piece of cake.

Public Transport in India

Public Transport India
Train arriving at the station in Mumbai

I should also mention that the public transportation in big cities can be a mission during rush hours. It’s almost impossible to understand how those hundreds of people waiting in the station will manage to hop on a train that is already packed. But they do. Thankfully they also have women-only wagons and I felt much safer being squeezed by them rather than by men. I know that women-only wagons are a mere palliative measure and that people should focus on changing the way women are treated in society. But until that happens, I was really thankful for the pink wagons.

8 – Being different in India

People-staring

Be prepared to have a lot of people staring at you. In most of the cases it happens just because you’re different and it shouldn’t be a reason for getting concerned. I traveled in trains and had men and women staring at me for hours, literally nonstop. Sometimes I really got distressed but there was not much I could do. I realized that if I yelled at them, I’d probably get a bigger crowd of spectators. So I just tried to focus on my book and forget that they were there.

People asking for photos

Many people will ask to take a picture with you. The more different from them you look like (physically and also the way you dress), the more they’ll ask. You decide how often you will want to do that and with whom. If it was a group of guys, I generally didn’t accept (sometimes they took a picture of me anyway). If it was a woman with her kids, I generally did.

On one occasion, a boy (probably aged around 12) asked my friend and I to take a picture with him. We agreed and in the middle of the selfie he tried to touch our breasts. We told him to get the hell out of there and laughed about the situation. But it could have been worse (imagine a bigger group of older men).

Anyway, if you want to avoid any risk, I’d say the best thing to do is to smile nicely and say “I’m sorry but no”.

9 – Religion in India

Hinduism

The most predominant religion in India is Hinduism, with around 80% of the population. Nevertheless when you talk to Hindus they claim it is not their religion but rather their way of living.

Puja
Puja ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river in Haridwar

Whether they have 33 or 330 million gods, is rather a philosophical question. But the basic philosophy of Hinduism advocates that rivers, rocks, animals and humans are ultimately all divine.

You’ll probably see lots of hindu temples across the country destined for the different gods. Many people also have a god of their preference, who is sometimes the patron of the family. It is also common (and very interesting) to see the performance of pujas (worshiping rituals). I had the chance to experience them individually in a family home, in a temple or together with other millions of people in the Ganges river in Rishikesh for example.

Islam

The second most common religion in India is Islam. Muslims can be found mainly in the far north (close to the Pakistani border), and northeastern states. Hindus and Muslims cohabit mostly in peace with few exceptions, like when it comes to eating beef.

Religion India
This is me, my friend and her mother with two indian best friends: one is a brahmin and the other a muslim

Christianity and other religions

There is a 2.3% share of Christians in India but I didn’t meet a single indian Christian during my trip. 0.7% of the population are Buddhists and they can be found mostly close to Nepal. India is also the home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. They live in Dharamsala, a city marked by Tibetan Buddhism. India also has 0.4% of its population declared as Jainists. They can be found mostly in the northwestern part of the country.

Dharamsala
Tibetan Bells in Dharamsala, the city of the Dalai Lama in India

Sikhism

Some 1.7% of the Indian population are Sikhs and they are predominant in the state of Punjab. That’s where they have their holiest place of worship: the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

Sikhs Golden Temple
Sikhs waiting in the line to enter the golden temple – it is required to cover the head to enter the temple

Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, which are found in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib. The book is nowadays regarded as their final, sovereign and eternal living guru and is worshiped in the temples. The original one is kept in the Golden Temple and is taken care of as a person, being cleaned and ‘put to sleep’ daily.

One remarkable sign of Sikhs is the turban. For many people it’s their dearest item. My couchsurfing host in Chandigarh had dozens of them, on all different colours and fabrics.

Turban Sikh
Me and my couchsurfing hosts with a Sikh turban in Chandigarh – it takes them one hour to put it correctly

He took great care of them and spent 1 hour every day putting it on his head, meticulously turning that long cloth around his hair and adjusting the folds correctly. A decent-looking turban is very well regarded socially! Many of them have never cut their hair or beards as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation.

10 – Castes

Caste is a form of social stratification and is still very present in Indian society. It is characterized as the hereditary transmission of a lifestyle, distinguished by relative degrees of social status and ritual purity or pollution.

The system is very intricate and hard to understand for a foreigner. Even though it is becoming less relevant, I still met many guys who told me really proudly that they were Brahmins, or the top of the caste system. Conversely, I read about several cases of Dalits (the lowest level of the Hindu caste system) who had gone as far as phd degrees and then killed themselves. They were not able to bear the daily prejudice and segregation.

11 – Climate in India

I guess most of us think India is always hot and humid, but that’s not true.

Alright, Mumbai was the muggiest experience of my life, where I barely stepped out in the street and instantly the sweat started dripping.

But India can be really cold too. If you’re planning to visit the North (like the Ladakh region) in the winter, prepare for cold and snow. There are several winter holiday destinations in the Himalayan area and some of the access roads can get blocked after heavy snowfalls.

Climate India
Desert dunes in Rajasthan, a big contrast to the backwaters of Kerala or the snowy mountains of Kashmir

The South is known for having more mild temperatures, with humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and drier tropical weather in the southeast. The west part of the country (mostly Rajasthan) is characterized by arid desert.

The monsoons happen from June to September and slowly sweep across the country, bringing heavy precipitation mainly in the central region. It’s not advisable to visit India during the monsoon, unless you’re willing to visit everywhere under heavy summer storms.

12 – Shopping

Shopping is really cheap in India and you can find pretty much anything – clothes, jewelry and precious stones, fabrics and shawls, tapestry, silver, religious stuff and so much more. I have some friends who paid their whole trips to India by selling things back at home. It’s something to consider.

Bargaining India
Bargaining in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Always bargain. They’ll always tell you a much higher price and will lower it down according to your bargaining power, appearance and background. That’s right. I think in many occasions being a Brazilian brunette, dressed as an Indian helped me get a better price than say a blond German dressed in western clothes.

The currency in India is the rupee and it orbits around 0.014 and 0.02 of a dollar. You can get a lot with little money and the luxury you want to have in your travels depends on how much you’re willing to invest. I did couchsurfing in many places, stayed in relatively cheap ashrams and ate from simple restaurants. But you can also indulge in beautiful resorts and fine dining restaurants, go on organized tours and travel with a lot more luxury. India offers endless possibilities, for all tastes and budgets.

Indian boy
India is full of surprises. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

This list is not intended to be taken as a general rule, because India is such a diverse, ever-changing, dynamic country. But those were some points that I think are worth taking into consideration before traveling to this incredible country.

Hope they will help with planning your trip to India and make your travels easier and more enjoyable!

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During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

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Breaking Up, Breaking Down, Breaking Free

Breaking Free

Breaking Free

August 10, 2015. Two years ago today I was leaving for the greatest adventure of my life. That day marked my breaking free from abuse and heavy-heartedness into a meaningful, joyful, wholehearted life!

It was a beautiful winter day and my mom and dad brought me to the Sao Paulo International Airport. I remember my mom crying and saying she was worried. I asked ‘why’, since this was not the first time I was leaving.

She said, “yes, but this time you’re traveling much further, you’re going to India alone! And I don’t even know if you’re really coming back in 4 months like you say”.

She was right. It was the furthest, craziest adventure I had ever been on and as a matter of fact, I didn’t come back after 4 months. Actually, it’s been two years and I’m still on the road.

But when I left on the 10th of August 2015, my plan was to travel around New Zealand, go to a meditation event in Australia, visit Thailand, and realize my biggest dream of traveling around and studying Yoga in India!

I knew 4 months was too short for traveling to so many places, but it was what my budget allowed me to do.

Honestly, I just wanted to leave, explore, and experience something new. I needed a break from what I had lived and who I had been. In fact, I wanted to find out who I truly was and who I wanted to be.

Because I suddenly found myself completely lost.

Exuberant nature and the friendliest people: New Zealand is absolutely astonishing! It was the best choice for the first stop of my journey!

Breaking Down

I think most of the big adventures people go on start as an attempt to escape from some uncomfortable, painful situation. Fair enough, I can’t think of a better remedy than traveling!

In my case, I was facing a break-up from a long-term, turbulent relationship. And I suddenly found myself single, unemployed and with no future plans. F**king scary.

But it was also the best opportunity to go on this big expedition and visit those places that had always been on my bucket list (and that sometimes I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to visit, because I was so stuck in my relationship).

It was a really hard breakup process. I remember really harsh things being said to me. With my heart torn into pieces, I felt weak, humiliated, furious, sad and lonely. I cried a lot, for days.

Australia
3 weeks in Australia was definitely too short, but the best remedy for a broken heart: astounding views, inspiring events and amazing people!

Breaking Up

One day I decided to leave. And after I took that decision, I just felt like I was being guided by some external force, much stronger than me. It wasn’t hard to grab the few most important things that could fit in one bag. I felt this overwhelming force inside of me almost dragging me out of that place.

I felt like the Universe had heard my call and was telling me, “keep calm and follow your heart. It will take you in the right direction. I have your back. Now go, gorgeous! Your best life is about to begin!”

I went to the front gate and took no key with me. The door banged behind me and I knew I was never coming back.

Two months later I was hopping on a plane to Auckland, New Zealand, the first stop of my big adventure.

When I hopped on that plane, I felt completely empty. But I trusted that this trip would fulfill that emptiness with memorable experiences like never before. I believed with all my heart it would be an amazing, healing, and empowering process. So I was not afraid.

In Thailand I felt strong, beautiful and in control of my life. It was also in Thailand that I fell in love.

Breaking Away

I went to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, then back to Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, I never came back from that trip.

I went back to my parents house to visit them for a couple of months, with my partner, that I met during my travels. We visited family and friends, traveled around a bit and left again for our next adventures around the world. Back to New Zealand, then to Spain, and now we live in Germany.

This journey changed my life completely. It brought me uncountable blessings in the form of inspiring ideas, strength and love. It gave a chance to start again.

On the road I found out who Ana Terra was and I fell in love with her for the first time.

Taj Mahal India
By the time I got to India, I was a different person. I had fallen in love with life again!
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