Into The World Of Spices — Must-try Dishes When You Visit India

India is one of the most exotic countries in the world and I’m proud to say I am a huge fan of Indian food. In my opinion, I think each Indian dish represents an independent and delicate culinary work. The distinctive aromatic flavour and the exuberant combination of spices are just as fascinating as the country itself!

I’d like to introduce some of the most common spices used in Indian cooking as well as some must-try local dishes when you visit India. If you are seeking to combine your love for cooking with authentic travel experience, check out Indian Home Cooking Class and Home Cooking Jaipur with Payal. If you’re a foodie on a constant search of unique dishes like me, The Full Belly Walk With Lavy may be what you’re looking for.

Before you start noting down all the must-try, let’s learn a little bit about the heart of Indian Cuisine — “Spices”, are widely known as “Masala” in Hindi. Indian spices include various kinds grown across the country and its subcontinental area. Due to a variety of climates in India, a great deal of spices are produced and cultivated for centuries. These spices are used in many ways such as chopped, whole, roasted, sautéed, ground, fried, and as topping. Some are added at the end as flavouring while some are heated in a saucepan with cooking oil to create a gravy base. Typically, stronger flavoured spices are added first and lighter ones the last. In addition, the word “curry” is a rather general term used by Westerners to indicate any Indian dishes that come with spiced flavours. If you do get a chance to visit an authentic Indian restaurant, you’ll notice that they take their spices very seriously. They would list all the main specific spices used in each dish. I have to admit I was utterly mesmerised when I first visited an Indian restaurant. The variety of spiced dishes seemed intimidating but exciting at the same time for me!

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If you’re no stranger to Indian cuisine, you shall recognize The Masala Dabba (container for spices) below. The Masala Dabba is like the very basic spices cabin in every Indian kitchen. The following are 6 common and essential spices you may find in The Masala Dabba.

masala-dabba

The Masala Dabba. Credit: David D

  1. Cloves

Clove is extensively used in Indian cooking and its aniseed flavour is easily recognised and similar to other spices like star anise or fennel. Cloves are dried up flower buds and a lot of oils are pressed out, explaining its strong medicinal smell. One can either use them as whole or blend with other spices. Due to its strong flavour, cloves tend to overpower other delicate spices, which is something one should be aware of when adding them.

  1. Coriander

Coriander is perhaps the most ubiquitous spice used in the world of Masala. Being one of the oldest spices in the world, the coriander seeds are very aromatic and distinctive in its golder-ridged texture. There are different ways to make the most of the spice in cooking. You can either mix the coriander seeds with other spices or ground the seeds to dry-roast it in a pan to increase its flavour. Coriander is used in one of the most famous dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala.

  1. Cumin/Jeera

Cumin or Jeera adds a rather smoky, earthy flavour to the food. It can be used in raw form or cooked in hot oil to help release its aroma. Some people will ground the spice to get a fuller and more intense flavour. One thing to note when dry-roasting cumin is that you should turn off the knob once you sense a smoky fragrance otherwise the whole dish may taste bitter when you mix the over-toasted cumin with other spices.

  1. Saffron

Saffron is recognised to be the most expensive spice in the world because it requires extensive labour to produce. The best saffron comes in dark-red and the fresher the saffron the redder it appears. It is usually used in small quantities (considering its value) and dissolved in warm milk or water before added to dishes

  1. Mustard seed

Among the 40 kinds of mustard seeds, the ones commonly used are black mustard, white mustard and brown mustard. All three kinds are used in Indian cooking, however, the black mustard is added most frequently than the other two. The black mustard also has the most pungent smell while the white mustard is the mildest. Mustard seeds are the fundamental spices used in curries.

  1. Turmeric

Besides coriander, Turmeric is another popular spice in Indian cooking. Turmeric is a ginger like rhizome, which can be used dried or fresh. It is known to provide several health benefits and medicinal properties. Fresh turmeric is stronger than grounded one. Additionally, it stains easily so be careful with your clothes or utensils when using it. You can use it to give your curry dish a glossy golden look.

Read here to learn more about other commonly used spices in India:

http://www.thekitchn.com/11-essential-spices-for-indian-cooking-223152

http://www.ecurry.com/blog/indian/indian-kitchen-basics/the-most-commonly-used-indian-spices/

Spices play a very critical role in Indian Cuisine. The fact that different spices are cultivated and used in different regions of the country explains the limitation of listing all the dishes in this blog post. Thereby, the following article will focus on introducing 6 must-try plus most-shared dishes when visiting India.

  1. Dosa
ewan-munro-dosa-rice-pudding-curry

Dosa, rice puddings, curry. Credit: Ewan Munro

Dosa is a crispy, flat bread made of rice batter (a fermented crepe), served with a lentil sauce (sambar) and a variety of chutneys. It’s a famous Southern Indian snack, which actually comes with versatile flavours. The usual fillings in a dosa includes coconut,sambar, potato and onion. Dosa also goes well with vegetable stew so you could also have it plain if you like.

Read 11 Types of Dosa to find out how diverse this Southern Indian Snack is.

  1. Samosa
samosa-edsel-little

Samosa. Credit: Edsel Little

Your trip to India won’t be complete without tasting Indians’ favorite snacks/street food — Samosa. It is said to be the pride of North India. Samosa is a deep fried snack prepared by rolling the dough of white flour and then filling it with the mixture made of potatoes, green peas, garam masala, onions, chilli powder, fennel and salt. When’s the best time to have Samosa? Anytime you like! The classic Samosa comes with cottage cheese fillings. However, here are some ideas on trying different flavours of samosas when you’re in India. Read Best Samosa to try in India

  1. Biryani
reedz malik nasi biryani.jpg

Nasi Biryani. Credit: Reedz Malik

Biryani is a dish that’s great for sharing. It is an aromatic rice dish cooked with several spices, notably saffron, and a protein (typically lamb) that’s been marinated.

The main ingredients consist of Basmati rice, chicken, yogurt, spices, shredded onion, cucumber slices, lemon, coriander leaves and saffron. It is available with variations such as chicken or vegetables, thus the vegetarian biryani.

There are countless versions of Biryani as each family may have their own Biryani recipe. One commonly known flavour is the Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani, which is from a city called Hyderabad. It is a combination of Mughali and Iranian cuisine. Here’s an interesting piece to learn How a biryani tastes and looks like from place to place.

  1. Tandoori Chicken
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Tandoori chicken. Credit: Stu_spivack

Tandoori Chicken can be found in most Indian restaurants and is usually served as a starter. It is also popular among other southeast Asian countries. The chicken is marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices for after hours. Then it is roasted in the traditional tandoor under very high temperature, thus the name.

  1. Chaat
chaat-1

Dahi papdi chaat. Credit: Dhinal Chheda

Chaat is a collective term describing savory snacks found at the food carts by the roadsides. It includes numerous dishes such as pani puri, sev puri, samosa, dahi-puri and so on. Indians usually have chaat as starters or evening snacks. Though strictly local to Mumbai, Chaats can be savoured anywhere in the streets throughout India. The key ingredients include chilli powder, onions, tomatoes, and curds. One popular chaat is Papri chaat,which is fried crispy dough served with boiled chick peas, potatoes, chilis, tamarind chutney, yogurt, and different spices.

  1. Rogan Josh
rogan-josh

Rogan josh. Credit: stu_spivack

Rogan josh is one of the staples from the Kashmiri cuisine and is a lamb dish of Persian origin. Rogan means oil while josh means intense heat, suggesting how the dish is prepared. The meat used in rogan josh is lamb shank or shoulder. They are marinated in caramelized shallots, yogurt and spices, mainly the Kashmiri red chilli, explaining the characteristic color of the dish. This Kashmiri dish can be eaten with naan, an Indian flat bread or flavoured rice.
Apart from the six dishes listed above, there are simply too many other delicious Indian dishes awaiting to be savoured. I myself, learned a lot from writing this blog post, too! Business Insider published an interesting article about avoiding the westernized knockoffs and go for the authentic Indian cuisine. And there are dozens of online articles sharing the top must-try dishes when visiting India. Like this one: 26 Traditional Indian Food That Will Change Your Life Forever. I have a new pocket list of what I want to try on my next visit to an Indian restaurant now, so should you!

The Emergence of Creative Tourism: Yunlin, Taiwan

The concept ”Creative Tourism” first appeared in 2000 by Richards and Raymond (2000) who participated in the EUROTEX project, which was aimed to drive craft production through tourism.

UNESCO later (2006) defined Creative Tourism as “travel directed toward an engaged and authentic experience, with participative learning in the arts, heritage, or special character of a place, and it provides a connection with those who reside in this place and create this living culture.”

Obviously, I’m not going to bore you with all these definitions. Cities like Barcelona, Auckland, and Manchester are some of the pioneers in creative tourism. Today, let’s switch our focus to YunLin, a city located on the west coast of Taiwan, Asia.

Yunlin, a city once considered the most underdeveloped area is now a trending holiday spot for family and friends alike. It is also one of my favorite getaway places as this was where I spent most of my wild childhood with my loving grannies. I couldn’t help but notice how it has changed since I last visited in 2014. The city has transformed historic architectures and factories into educational playgrounds and open-art galleries. The following 5 places are not only popular among the locals but are free to enter as well!

1. Cats on the roof, DingXi Neighborhood (屋頂上的貓,頂溪貓藝術村).

%e8%b2%93%e6%9d%91Address: 632, Taiwan, Yunlin County, Huwei Township, 過溪56-2號

DingXi Neighborhood used to be messy and unorganised. Though certain actions had been taken to help reshape the community’s downgrading image, there was very little positive outcome. The neighborhood didn’t receive any attention until the officials started an urban planning project with the help of students from National Formosa University. Cat-themed murals were then painted on the mottled walls by both students and people from the neighborhood. The cats are so vividly portraited that visitors cannot stop gasping at the brilliant combination of colors and cuteness. DingXi Neighborhood is afterwards dubbed “Cats on the Roof”. I surely had quite a lot of fun getting some intriguing shots! 🙂

cat

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2. Shing Long Textile Factory (興隆毛巾工廠)

towel1Address: 632, Taiwan, Yunlin County, Huwei Township, 84- 號

Shing Long Textile Factory is the living example of how a sunsetting industry make one glorious come back in this era that is all about capitalism, mass automated production, and technology. The factory takes pride in their 35 years of experience in producing high quality textile products. The company’s creativity and innovation resulted in the acquired patent for “Cake Towels” in 2005. Different themes were later on introduced, including animals, festivals, and characters of God from Taoism practised in Taiwan.

A day trip to the factory offers both educational and recreational amusements. Upon arriving at the factory, a green lush tunnel awaits you. Along the tunnel are the resting area, garden, and some exhibited boards illustrating the history of Shing Long. There’s also an open-air cafe where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while batheing under the warm sun. As you enter the main building, you will soon be dazzled by all the adoring textile products displayed on the shelves. Apart from these, there is an indoor snack place, DIY classrooms, and exhibited machinery rooms. It’s the perfect place for both family and friends!

towel-godsPhoto credit: SL Towel

towel2Photo credit: Hsiung

3. YunLin Hand Puppet Museum (雲林布袋戲館)

¥¬³UÀ¸À] @ ªê§ÀPhoto credit: I-Ta Tsai

Address: No.498, Sec. 1, Linsen Rd., Huwei Township, Yunlin County 632

Yunlin is known to be the origin of hand puppet culture and the annual International Puppets Arts Festival. The puppet museum used to be a police station and governmental office in the 1990s. Its original wooden structure is one of the oldest kind that can be found in Huwei. The museum is divided into sections including puppet theatre, puppet exhibition, the old prison, and live performance. The entrance is free. What I love about the place is the yard in the middle of the building. I like to just sit by the wooden floor and feel the summer breeze gently kisses my face.

puppetPhoto credit: Chih-Yung Hung

4. YunLin Story House (雲林故事館)

story house.jpgPhoto credit: oneVillage Initative

Yunlin Story house was built during Japanese colonial time, therefore the miniature of classic wooden architectural design. It is also the first historical building revitalisation in Yunlin county. In order to preserve the delicate furniture in the house, there is a limited number of people to enter the story house at one time. But don’t worry, the wait is usually less than 5 minutes. What I like most is the cultural atmosphere and interior design of this place (See guided map here). A lot of displays genuinely recreate how lives from the past were like. As its name indicates, many stories including local life, folktales, art and literature are being told using different forms of presentation. It really feels like stepping into a time machine.
story house 1.jpg

Photo credit: oneVillage Initative

story house 3.jpgPhoto credit: oneVillage Initative

5. HuWei Station (虎尾驛站)

ticket-officeAddress: No.10, Zhongshan Rd., Huwei Township, Yunlin County 632

Huwei Station was once a bus stop and train station for Taisugar Factory. It used to be the most prosperous area during Japanese colonial era. Now, it’s a cultural destination that attracts both locals and tourists. Creative arts are exhibited, alone with agricultural produce to help independent farmers and artists market their brand and support their lives. There is a small cafe inside the station and if you walk further, you’ll see a steam train resting solemnly on the tracks. The train was used to transport sugar in the past.

huewei.jpgPhoto credit: billlushana1 (changes made)

I would say Yunlin makes the most out of creative tourism and sustainable tourism, considering these places have all come with a different story and undergone considerable transformation. Personally, I prefer countryside more than city. Though life may seem tranquil, the true excitements derive from those unexpected you discover every day. Travelling doesn’t always have to be leaving for a foreign land and see the unseen. A lot of times, the unseen is just right in front of us waiting to be noticed!

The Path Less Traveled In Thailand: Unveiling Ratchaburi

Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai have always been the top choices for travelers visiting Thailand. However, I will be introducing an off-the-beaten province, Ratchaburi.

Ratchaburi is located 80 kilometres west of Bangkok, and overlooks its neighbour, Myanmar (Burma). When visiting this area it is going back to nature with stunning mountain ranges, magnificent caves, hot springs, waterfalls and the best floating markets in the country. It has long been a perfect weekend getaway spot for locals living in the capital.

If you are traveling to Thailand and craving for some authentic interactions and a path less traveled, then visiting Ratchaburi is one of the great things to do in Thailand. Here are some unique places to visit when you are in Ratchaburi.

  1. What to see in Ratchaburi

1.1 Visit Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Floating market Thailand
Colourful floating markets are definitely one of the images that pop into travelers’ mind and one of the great things to do in Thailand while you are there. Daily commerces were and are still being conducted through the water network, which explains the excessive businesses sprouting along rivers and canals. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is unique and famous for its historical existence of more than 100 years. It is one of the most stunning floating markets in Thailand. The products sold here vary from fruits and vegetables to clothes and crafted art works. For early risers, this is a great place to start your day. The market is open from 6am until noon. If you want to avoid the crowd, it’s best to arrive there as early as 7am and enjoy a traditional Thai breakfast by the water. Starting from 9am, heavy boat traffic is very likely to spoil your holiday mood! Alternatively, you could hire a cheap row boat and ride along the Khlongs decorated with stilted houses.

Tip 1: Most souvenirs sold here are overpriced. Yet, if a vibrant floating market experience is all you after, Damnoen Saduak is the place to go.

1.2 Make a pilgrimage to Wat Maha That Worawihan at Phetchaburi

Wat Maha temple
Photo credit: Kaysha

Pehtchaburi is one of the neighbouring provinces of Ratchaburi. Upon arrival you will be greeted by a white temple surrounded by five tall white-pinnacle stupas. The temple was built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII of Cambodia in the 18th Buddhist century. Wat Mahathat Worawihan is decorated with magnificent murals and Buddhist relics on the inside. You will hardly miss the main attraction, which is “Phra Mongkol Buri”, a gigantic Buddha statue that’s a palm span wide. Interestingly, the body and the head are made in different art styles, explaining its bizarrely proportional torso and knees. While this statute is facing the east, there is also another statute, which the Buddha is facing the west. People believe that this means the Buddha is protecting the city in all directions. The complexity and inquisition of the whole architecture are an awe for every traveler. You may also find some inner peace or inspiration while strolling around the temple.

Buddha Wat Mahathat Worawihan
Photo credit: Kaysha

To get to Phetchaburi, you can take the train from Ratchaburi train station. The journey takes roughly an hour.

1.3 Bathe in Bo Khlueng Hot Stream

Fancy for a warm dip?! Head towards the direction of Suan Phueng until you almost reach the Burmese border. From there you will see a sign leading you to Bo Khlueng Hot Stream (roughly 10km distance). The water flowing through the earth’s crust and small rocks at the Ta Nao Sri Mountain is said to be rich in minerals that serve as great remedies for skin problems. Bo Khlueng Hot Stream has a year round temperature between 50-68 degrees Celsius that would surely help you relax and revitalise strength from your previous long travel. For me it was one of the most relaxing things to do in Thailand.

The opening hours are from 8am to 5pm. The entrance fee varies depends on your preferred activity:

– 5 Baht Free to soak your feet and legs.
– 30 Baht Entry to natural rock pool
– 50 Baht Entry to ceramic pool

On your way to the hot stream, you will pass by the Khao Chon Waterfall, which consists of 9 levels of cascades. For natural lovers, a two-hour hike will reward you with a fantastic view from the top of the ninth level!

1.4 Do a Cave Trekking

  • Snake Mountain: Tham Ruesi Khao Ngu Cave

Khao Ngu Cave is renowned for collections of Buddha sculptures that are more than 700 years old. It is also regarded as the oldest archaeological site in the whole Ratchaburi province. The main figure is 2.5 meter high. Along with your trekking, you would be accompanied by the monkeys as they have been long resided in the area. A grand panoramic view of the whole city can be captured after an enduring 466-steps hike up to a pavilion. No pain no gain, right! From atop, you can see the hills decorated by farmhouses and temples. If you would like to participate in the annual festival held at the temple, late September or October would be the best time to visit.

  • Bat Cave: Wat Khao Chong Pran

Bat cave Thailand
We’ve all seen the movie: The Dark Knight Rises from the Batman series. Here at Ratchaburi, the knights that rise are actually real bats! Wat Khao Chong Pran, also known by the name Bat Cave is well-known for an authentic experience: The descent of darkness. Imagine the sky suddenly covered by a swarm of bats! Every evening during sun sets, millions of bats wake up from the cave and fill the sky with complete darkness. On your visit into the cave, be sure to wear a mask and a cap to avoid the strong smell and occasional “luck” from above. For the best view of both the sunset and the stunning black parade, you could take a 400 step hike up to the top of the bat mountain. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  • Khao Bin Cave

Khao Bin cavePhoto credit Lin voyage

Khao Bin Cave has been considered the most beautiful cave in Ratchaburi. Khao Bin means ‘’Flying Dove” in Thai. It perfectly depicts the particular feature of the stones formed in this cave. The 300 meter high cave is filled with 8 different chambers of splendid stalactites and stalagmites. What’s more fascinating is that coloured lightings are installed in each chamber that gives off a more sensational or rather magical atmosphere. It’s quite humid in the cave, so you might want to bring a towel or dress light. There’s even an emergency vehicle outside the cave if you are having trouble breathing. Unlike other caves in Ratchaburi, there is an entrance fee of 20 Baht required. Nevertheless, it’s completely worth the value for if you are looking for distinctive adventures.

1.5 Be Creative at Tao Hong Tai Ceramics

Tao Hong Tai Ceramics
Photo credit: Chakard Chalayut

Apart from the natural side of Ratchaburi, explore your inner artistic soul by paying a visit to the oldest ceramics factory in Ratchaburi, Tao Hong Tai Ceramics. A great mixture of art and nature, the garden is filled with colourful ceramic designs. The factory also offers you a tour to learn about the production of ceramics and its history. What make Tao Hong Tai so well known is their custom-made ceramics ranging from furniture to tiles. This is also a great place to pick up some souvenirs for your friends and family.

1.6 Enter the Colourful World of Candles in Suan Phueng

One of the most wonderful things to do in Thailand is visiting Suan Phueng, a district in Ratchaburi province. Public transportation is available to get here. It is a great place for both solo travelers and group travels as the district has so much to offer.

Baan Hom Tian is both a candle factory and a local restaurant that attracts many visitors during their time at Suan Phueng. They are most famous for their handmade scented candles. It first started as a community project, which allows local artists to produce and display their candles. There is a small entrance fee to pay but it can later be exchanged into some souvenir candles. Upon entering the shop, you might not know where to look at first because the whole shop is simply mesmerised by these coloured candles. What’s more welcoming is a pint of vintage laidback vibe that you instantly fall in love with. Though the shop is quite small, it’s quite likely you will end up spend more time than you expected exploring all the hidden corners. The factory also organizes workshops if you want to design your own candles. The fee is around 200 Baht. It is surely an educational and recreational experience for a first timer in Ratchaburi!

2. Best places to eat and drink in Ratchaburi

2.1 Restaurant opposite the candle shop

If you are visiting the above mentioned candle factory then also have a bite at the restaurant opposite their shop. It has a very cosy ambiance and the food is delicious! The restaurant is surrounded by lush green tropical plants. Try one of their drinks served in fresh bamboo. Afterwards you can take home your bamboo cup, which is a very nice gesture and a great memory.

2.2 Inlaya Bar and Grill: The most beautiful restaurant in Ratchaburi

Inlaya bar and grill
Photo credit Inlaya

This is wonderful restaurant situated right by the lake within a 20-minute drive from Ratchaburi town centre. The restaurant is constantly praised for their freshly served, yummy and authentic seafood dishes transported directly from the port in Samut Songkram, close to Mae Klong River.

Inlaya
Photo credit Inlaya

The price is reasonable and the service is beyond satisfying. Another highlight of this restaurant bar is their in-house live music performance. You can also sit outside on the veranda, enjoy the sunset with a cold beer in hand. How relaxing!

Inlaya Ratchaburi
Photo credit Inlaya

Read what visitors think about Inlaya Bar and Grill here

2.3 Riverside Night Market, The Walking Street, and Koyky Old Market

Riverside night market
Photo credit: Worapong Katesuwan

If you’re a big fan of street food and looking to immerse yourself in the local ambience, you can hit the river side of Mae Klong. There are lines of stalls selling local Thai street food as you stroll along. While satisfying your taste buds, visit Koyky Old Market and The Walking Street that are both next to the river, too. Unlike most tourist-populated markets, Koyky Old Market gives away a more rustic and down-to-earth atmosphere. Simple or shabby as you might think, the market is actually one of the places that might enrich you with the most hospitality and authenticity from your travel.

The market and the street are open during weekend evenings. You can browse all type of local handicrafts, toys, and silk-screened t-shirts. You may notice a huge community of Chinese and yellow-painted houses along the roads. Unlike the markets in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Koyky Old Market welcomes you with simplicity and local charm.

3. Some unique places to sleep in Ratchaburi

3.1 Villa Moreeda

Villa moreeda 2
Photo credit Villa Moreeda

It is difficult to define Villa Moreeda to hotel or B&B. It’s between both. All rooms are tastefully decorated with stunning views. Villa Moreeda is surrounded by the Suan Phueng mountains and situated next to the Lum Pa Chee river. It offers peace, serenity and an unforgettable experience.

BBD dinner villa moreeda
Photo credit Villa Moreeda

River Villa moreeda
Photo credit Villa Moreeda

3.2 Ashcarya Resort

Ashcarya resort
Photo credit Ashcarya

Ashcarya is a quiet and tranquil getaway. It is situated in the middle of nature that brings peace of mind while enjoying fantastic views. The rooms are equipped with necessary amenities with outdoor shower and free wifi.

Pool Ashcarya resort
Photo credit Ashcarya

3.3 La Toscana Resort

La Toscana resort
Photo credit La Toscana

If you wouldn’t know you were in Thailand you would think you were overlooking the Tuscan hills of Italy. Each house at La Toscana resort is differently designed and made of handmade bricks and roof tiles that they made themselves. The decorations and most of the furniture are made by the talented local villagers of PhaPok village. You can enjoy beautiful scenery while sipping a refreshing drink or cool off in their lovely pool.

View la toscana
Photo credit La Toscana

4. How to get to Ratchaburi

Below is some information about getting to Ratchaburi using public transportation.

By Bus: Both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal to Ratchaburi every day. The journey lasts approximately 2 hours and a one-way ticket costs around 80-90 baht. The first trip from Bangkok leaves 6am and the last trip leaves 11pm. The first trip from Ratchaburi leaves 4am and the last trip leaves 9pm. The main operating company is Transport Co. Ltd. Unfortunately, there is no official website with thorough information regarding bookings. Alternatively, you could call them on 0 2435 1199-200

By Train (Recommended by locals): The train leaves from Bangkok Railway Station Hua Lamphong and Thonburi Railway Station every day. The trip lasts for about 2 hours. A third class one-way ticket departing from Bangkok costs 25 baht (0.70 USD). The following link allows you to search for tickets only on your departure date. http://www.railway.co.th/checktime/checktime.asp?lenguage=Eng However, if you prefer to travel with a more organised schedule, Virail is a very useful website to book your tickets in advance. The price is more or less the same when booked with State Railway of Thailand.

Ratchaburi is a rather tranquil and modest city compared to the hectic life in Bangkok. It is a city with friendly locals, historic importance, and splendid nature. A weekend trip may turn into a week long trip, you never know! If you do plan to spend more days in Ratchaburi, check out: Top 25 Things to do in Ratchaburi by The Crazy Tourist.

If you decide to discover more off-the-beaten spots, renting a campervan sounds like a good idea. Check out how Alana Morgan traveled through central Thailand with a campervan here: Campervanning Through Central Thailand.

Taiwan as a Hotspot for Solo Female Travelers

The rising independency of women is contributing to the growing number of solo female travelers around the globe. Yes! We are everywhere! Solo traveling is actually a great way to rediscover yourself and enrich your life experience at the same time. Safety may be a concern if you are a solo female traveler, but you don’t have to be put off if you know the right place to go. 😉

Many popular destinations in Southeast Asia have been listed to best start your first solo trip. In our previous blog post ‘’6 BEST TRAVEL DESTINATIONS IN ASIA FOR A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER’’, we introduced you to some of the top choices, including Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In this blog post, I will introduce you to my own country, Taiwan. It is an island that has long been underrated but is slowly becoming a new hotspot for solo female travelers. The country looks like a miniature of a sweet-potato on the map. It’s a beautiful island, Formosa as the Portuguese called it, with rich nature, friendly people, finger-licking gourmets, distinctive culture and more. Here are my 6 reasons why Taiwan should be your next solo traveling destination:

1. Safety

According to a Skift Report, Taiwan ranked 3rd place among ‘’The 10 safest Asian countries for female travelers’’. It has a low crime rate, and 75% citizens feel safe walking home at night. There are waiting zones and carriages designed specifically for female passengers travelling by train or MRT (Massive Rapid Transit) at night. The MRT stations are clean and well-maintained. Also, you are not allowed to consume any food or drinks in the carriages. MRT starts operating from 6:00 am until 24:00. There is always someone at the customer service center during opening hours so don’t be shy and always ask for help if you are uncertain about where to go. Speaking from my personal experience, I have travelled several times at night using public transportation service without any trouble. The stations are always bright with lights and monitored by security cameras. Generally speaking, as long as you keep those basic safety rules in mind, you’ll be just fine.

mrtTaipei MRT Station. Credit: O.J.

2. Hospitality

A lovely encounter with local people is always part of a memorable travel experience. Taiwanese people are constantly being praised for their generosity and hospitality towards foreigners. I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation before: You stand on the sidewalk with a map in your hand, turning your head uneasily and wondering whether to go left or right. And it might seem scarier when you are a solo female traveler. But don’t worry, the island people are more than happy to come to your rescue (dramatic but true!).

Most Taiwanese do speak English, especially when you are traveling in bigger cities like Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung. Even with the language barriers, the locals will try their best to make themselves understood, including taking you to your destination themselves!

Traditional Chinese culture values greatly the importance of showing kindness and hospitality to our guests. Typically speaking, the further south you travel, the more passionate and lovely people you will find. Wherever you travel, one thing that you will remember from a trip to Taiwan is the hearty smile and jovial help you received from the locals. Some may even turn out to be your lifelong friends.

3. Convenient and Cheap Public Transportation

Taiwan offers various types of transportation that can take you to most cities, towns, and touristic attractions. If you plan to spend most of your days in the capital Taipei, MRT, buses, and You-Bikes are probably the best way to get around. MRT covers roughly the whole Taipei City, New Taipei City and even the outskirts like Beitou. Some metro stations are also integrated with major train stations (Eg. Taipei, Songshan) so you actually have a variety of transport options to choose from, depending on your preference, time, and budget.

You-Bikes are public bicycles that you can rent and return at any bike points outside the metro stations. What’s very convenient is that you can travel on all three transportations using just one card—‘’Easy Card’’. Literally, it allows you to travel easily without any hassle and ticketing problem. You may even top-up your credit anytime and use them for your purchase in shops and departments stores. How convenient is that!

If you plan to travel to Eastern Taiwan, cities like Ilan, Hualien, and Taitung are great places to embrace the nature. Outdoor activities such as rafting, river-tracing, and hiking are among my most favorite activities in this region. To go there, train and bus (coaches) tickets can be bought online or on the spot. There are two coach companies to consider when traveling from Taipei to YiLan: Capital Star & Kamalan.  If you are boarding at Taipei Main Station, your final destination is usually Luodong, Jiaoxi, or YiLan. However, if you would like to board at a different station, it’s better to look up the route in advance to avoid the hassle. Alternatively, if you are into cycling, you may rent a bike and cycle along the coast, taking in all the fantastic views. Annual Taiwan Cycling Festival is held every year on the east coast. Take a look at this year’s activity and start planning your trip!

4. Sensational Street Food Culture

If you’re an adventurous foodie, you will fall in love with Taiwan’s distinctive street food culture. The island is praised as the ‘’Home to the Best Street Food Market in the World’’ by The Guardians. Your trip to Taiwan won’t be complete without a visit to a ‘’Night Market’’. Night markets are generally street markets that operate from 5 or 6pm till midnight. It’s a perfect place to immerse yourself in the local atmosphere and enjoy cheep eating and buying. There are more than 15 night markets in Taipei (See The 5 Best Night Markets for Midnight Snacking in Taipei). Other larger scale night markets can also be found outside the capital, like Taichung Fengjia Night Market, Tainan Garden Night Market, Kaohsiung Liuhe Night Market, Yilan Luodong Night market. Additionally, Kaohsiung Ruifeng Night Market is where most locals go for snacking and it’s also much bigger than Liuhe. Overall, you will definitely find something satisfying for your tastes buds in these vigorous and varied food stalls.

I have to be honest that it is quite difficult for me to pick my top favorite night markets in Taiwan because of these two reasons: First, I haven’t been to all the night markets yet. Second, each night market is distinctive with mixture of foods and goods. Nevertheless, here are my Top 3 favorite night market and local street foods:

  • YiLan LuoDong Night Market: Ice cream & peanut roll (Taiwanese-style burrito with ice cream, crushed peanut candy, and coriander), Scallion rolls (Swirl-shaped dough mixed with chopped scallion with spattered black pepper on top), Red bean in Tapioca (Chewy and sweet dessert that is usually served with crushed ice or flavoured puddings)ice-cream
  • Bade Xinren Garden Night Market (the largest in Northern Taiwan): Egg pancakes (pancakes that come with different animals/cartoon character shapes), Braised snacks (A great variety of ingredients boiled and seasoned with spiced soy sauce), BBQ/Deep-fried king squid (Squid the size of your face barbecued/fried and served with different sauces/spices)
  • Taipei Raohe Night Market: Black pepper buns (juicy meat buns seasoned with black pepper and then baked in big charcoal pots), Guabao (Taiwanese-style burger with pork belly slice, pickles, crushed peanuts, and sometimes cilantros as fillings), Oyster omelet (Oyster pancake made from sweet potato starch, oysters, eggs and lettuce, best served with sweet red chili sauce)

Check out more: 40 Taiwanese Food We Can’t Live Without featured by BBC

5. Cultural and Historic Spots Perfect for Solo Traveling

Who says traveling alone has to be tedious? Getting to know more about yourself is one of the exciting benefits of traveling solo. And what’s better than embarking on an educational and inspirational trip to Taiwan? Below are some great spots for solo female travelers in Taiwan:

Da-Dao Cheng used to be a port city and had prospered outrageously from importing & exporting business during the 18th The city god along with other deities are said to help protect the people and bring fortune to the people. Now people come here to pray for happy love life and careers.

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This is one of my favorite spots in Taiwan and it’s perfect for a day trip if you are only spending a few days on this island. This small town was once a blooming gold mining town. Now it’s a popular destination for both locals and foreigners to relive the glamourous past. Featured tea restaurants where you learn to brew tea from scratch, traditional snacks freshly made in front of you, and old wooden structures telling the stories of old times, are just some of the highlights. The town also served as an award-winning moving setting for ‘’A City of Sadness’’, and ‘’Spirited Away’’. You can also hike around the area and take in the Pacific Ocean coastline.

  • Tamsui

This is a sea-side district named after Tamsui River. The city is very popular among the locals and is known to be a great location for viewing the sunset. The easiest way to reach Tamsui is to hop on the MRT Red Line and travel all the way to the final destination. The ride takes about 40 minutes from Taipei Main Station. Once arriving there, the best way to explore the city is on foot. You can stroll along the streets packed with local food, souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and entertainment playgrounds. Make sure to try the famous ‘’Iron Eggs’’, ‘’A-Gei’’, and ‘’Tamsui Fishball Soups’’. Baffling as these names may sound, it’s the authentic experience that counts! Alternatively, you can take the ferry to the Fisherman’s Wharf situated further down of the city. You will find chic cafes, street artists, and food stalls. The most significant landmark there is the ‘’Lover’s Bridge’’, which is illuminated by different colored lights at night and attracts couples, families, and friends.

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  • NeiWan

If you are planning to learn more about the diversified ethnic culture in Taiwan, NeiWan is the right place to go. Though surrounded by hills and waters, Neiwan is accessible through the NeiWan Train Line that runs every half an hour from Hsinchu City. Large group of Hakka people live here. The Hakkas are Chinese whose ancestors are originally from the Hakka-speaking areas of Southeast China.

NeiWan Old Street presents traditional wooden architectures and red-bricked houses that were built 20 years ago. It’s one of the places where one can still sense the reminiscent glory of the town. Some must-try gourmets include ginger lily-flavored glutinous rice, Hakka tea, and Hakka rica cakes (Mochi). One of the most popular sites is the Neiwan Theater, which is now transformed into a restaurant where visitors can enjoy a decent Hakka Meal and a movie at the same time. There are also some suspension bridges and hiking trails that you can visit. It’s a great place to just wander about your way and be surprised!

All of these attractions can be reached using public transportations and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The locals are always glad to meet someone who’s interested in learning more about their beautiful country. Being a Taiwanese, I have to admit that there are still a lot of places I haven’t visited and when I do, I am always mesmerized by the beauty of it.

6. Shoppers’ Paradise

One reason that Taiwan is receiving more foreign tourists is because of the comparatively cheaper budget for all travel activities. That includes SHOPPING!

If your itinerary doesn’t leave you much time to shop, night markets are efficient places to resolute your inner foodie & shopping soul. Taipei ShiDa Night Market is my ideal place to go. This night market is just nearby National ShiDa University and therefore is most popular for young adults. In contrast with other night markets introduced earlier, this one is specifically known for its trendy and inexpensive clothing choices.

Another pilgrimage for fashion lovers is at MRT Zhonxgiao Fuxing Station (MRT blue line). While large department stores like SOGO are hard to miss, it’s the ones hidden in narrow alleys and streets behind the buildings you should be looking out for. The majority of these stores are independent clothing shops that bring you the latest fashion trend from Japan or Korea. Some stores design their own products as well.

Taipei Ximending is another shoppers’ paradise. Ximending is most crowded on Fridays and weekends. Plenty of food stalls are a guarantee, as well as movie theaters and shops selling from clothes to phone accessories. (basically everything!)

Here are some recommendations for Taiwanese souvenirs:

  • Mini sky lantern with blessings for different purposes (Eg. Health, career, studies)
  • Pineapple cakes (The most famous savory snack in Taiwan)
  • Cosmetic products, especially face masks (Taiwanese face masks have been one of the favorite souvenirs among female travelers due to low price and high quality)
  • Stone ornaments and wood carvings (jades, emeralds, and wood carvings are very typical Chinese style gifts. Wood carvings comes with various design from your name to furniture)
  • Fine tea leaves (We take our tea seriously, even greater than the British! Alishan is known to produce the finest tea in Taiwan. However, you can easily find a lot of tea shops that also offer quality tea with a wide range of flavors)

For all the adventurous female travelers out there, pack your bags and make Taiwan your next destination. Seneca, a Roman philosopher once said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” You will discover that the little island has much more to offer than you expected!

%e5%9f%ba%e9%9a%862Keelong, Taiwan.