Having visited Phuket, Thailand twice in a span of six months we can safely say that this island paradise is not just about beach lounging, turquoise waters, trips to Phi Phi islands, strolling past strip bars and shopping streets. Phuket is also home to some very interesting local cuisine—this mountainous island located in the Andaman Sea has its fair share of tourist traps as well as hidden spots for every kind of holidaymaker—so, forget about calories and think Pad Thai, delectable curries, stir fry everything, mango sticky rice and…drumroll….hand churned coconut ice-cream.
Electric. Dynamic. Chaotic. The maker (and breaker) of dreams – Mumbai city, India is a pulsating metropolitan city that’s filled with the best of the best (restaurants, hotels, eateries, shops), and the worst of the worst (weather, garbage, crowds). It also just happens to be our home. With our ongoing Landmarks of Mumbai series, we’ll explore small areas of the city, piece by piece, lending our insider knowledge and expertise to each area – so you, traveller, tourist and fellow Mumbaikar – know exactly what landmark to visit, where to stay and where to eat.
Gateway of India
This arch-shaped monument has been standing tall, (and pretty-much graffiti free) since 1924, when it was built to welcome British officials into the city. While the English left us a while ago, we’re not complaining about what they left behind—architecturally gorgeous, built in the Indo-Saracenic style, this imposing gateway is pretty much synonymous with Mumbai, and Bombay before it. Unmissable.
Why you should see it: The best time to ‘see’ this spectacular English-constructed landmark is just as the sun rises—the crowds at the lowest and you’ll get views against a spectacular skyline. While you can see the Gateway from the promenade nearby, it’s officially open for business between 7am-5:30pm, all days of the week, when it gets crowded with everyone from click-happy tourists (Look Ma, I’m holding up the gateway) to frenzied professionals going about their daily commute. But if you get there around sunset, the area comes alive with hordes of people taking walks along the seafront and meandering the nearby streets for food and drink spots, popular in this area. Walking around here is the best way to get a feel of the city as a local.
Tourist haunts: Around the corner from the gateway sits Colaba Causeway—practically as popular as the former; the popular go-to food stops for out-of-towners tend to be The Leopold Café, Café Mondegar, Bade Miyan (a food truck-turned-restaurant), Theobroma, Cafe Churchill and Delhi Darbar (for biryani). This area is extremely famous for Mumbai’s street shopping that includes artificial jewellery, bags and clothing. (Make sure to bargain)
GYG picks: A whole in the wall old-school Indian-styled Chinese restaurant Ling’s Pavillion, Bagdadi,a little Irani-styled eatery best known for their range of pulaos, fried fish and caramel custard,Le 15 Café for its quaint English-café charm, Colaba Social for a fun-well-priced drink and Bombay Stock Exchange’s terrace-top bar, Cafe Churchill for old school continental cuisine and freshly bakes pastries.
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
The resident ghost of Taj Mahal Hotel is an urban legend that dates back to 1903. While the building was commissioned to three Indian architects, the main architect passed away whilst it was still under construction and was replaced by English engineer WA Chambers. Rumour has it, when he discovered the building had been constructed facing the opposite direction to his intent, he committed suicide and haunts the halls, even today. A ghostly tale not enough to entice a visit to the gorgeous India-Saracencic styled building?
Why you should see it: Go for the incredible hospitality at any of its great restaurants (The Golden Dragon is a personal favourite) – or just to marvel at its incredible architecture (tourists are allowed to walk in and explore the lobby and stores). You can also get gorgeous images against the beautiful building.
Tourist haunts: The Sea Lounge coffee shop at the Taj, overlooks the Gateway of India and offers the most sublime tea time service. (think layers of coffee cake and finger sandwiches). Around the corner are little sugarcane juice vendors to get through the heat that a day in Mumbai is bound to impress upon you.
GYG picks: While we love all the restaurants at the Taj hotel, venture to causeway where Piccadilly has the best shawarma’s we’ve had in the city, Gables for unique Goan cuisine, Olympia Coffee House for their old-world charm, keema pav, caramel custard and Mumbai-staple chai. The Strand Hotel rooftop bar for gorgeous views along with your drinks.
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
Home to more than a hundred thousand books, of which 15,000 are classified as rare and valuable, this heritage structure influenced by Greek and Roman architecture with its pristine white exterior is better known as a venue for loved-up pre-wedding photo shoots and general photo ops. We kinda like it for both, as you can see. Hehe. Asiaticsociety.org.in for details of accessibility and opening hours.
Why you should see it: One of the prettiest buildings in Mumbai has gone through extensive refurbishments to stay perfect. The interiors with their winding staircases, long columns and antiquated-style are perfect to take you back to Bombay of the past.
Tourist haunts: Horniman Circle Garden down the road from the Asiatic is the perfect spot of greenery in the midst of the bustling city, and if you saunter around in the afternoon, you’re likely to find a bunch of snoozing men under the shade of the tress. It’s also home to popular Indian-style stores like The Bombay Store, Chumbak and FabIndia for touristy (and quality) memorabilia.
GYG picks: The Nutcracker veggie restaurant for its delectable pancakes, Kala Ghoda Café for those who love being healthy on holiday, Trishna (arguably the best seafood restaurant in the city) and Ayubs (a hole-in-the-wall roll guy) who went from operating out of a car to having his own little space in Kala Ghoda. He’s also open until 3-4 am for late-night cravings. Britannia & Co. Restaurant a is synonymous with serving the best Parsi food in the city with its berry pulav (his berries are imported all the way from Iran) and salli boti (mutton gravy) are definitely not to be missed. You also get live entertainment from the kind old owner who dishes out tales from the British era.
Basic: Ascot Hotel, Residency Hotel Fort, Grand Hotel
Breaking the budget: Trident Nariman Point, The Oberoi Mumbai
Hanging Gardens of Mumbai
For endless, unfettered views of Mumbai’s iconic marine drive promenade and gorgeous aerial views of the city, and sunset views over the Arabian Sea, head down to this terraced garden, settled comfortably in a residential area of South Mumbai. From morning walkers to busloads of tourists, they all descend upon the garden for a look at ‘The Old Woman’s Shoe”. Sitting in Kamala Nehru Park complex, the shoe structure is inspired by the nursery rhyme, ‘There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe” and makes for a great whimsical photo-op.
Why you should see it: For the gorgeous sunset views of the city’s famed Queen’s necklace, for the quietude in the middle of this chaotic city and to take a quiet breath.
Tourist haunts: Banganga Tank an ancient water tank part of the Walkeshwar Temple Complex.
GYG picks: Dakshinayan, an authentic South Indian restaurant with high quality food and the best filter coffee; China Garden, an old-school, award winning Chinese restaurant, Narayan’s Dosa, grant road (a little hard to find, but Zomato should help you out).
Basic: The Regency Hotel, Nepensea Road
Breaking the budget: The Shalimar Hotel, Mumbai
To book accommodations we recommend: https://www.booking.com/
For more information on food: https://www.zomato.com/mumbai
Photographed by: Chail Shah Photography
The scent of delicately basted meat being grilled over charcoal fire and the sharp, intoxicating trail of freshly brewed coffee is hard to ignore – old city Chiangmai is littered with meat stalls and petite coffee houses. I like low-key holidays with long lunches and easy living as much as the next girl… so days strolling through the old city and evening bazaars were perfect. But just outside the city lie wonders of a different kind, and I put my explorer shoes on (Dora, who?) and headed out.
Up, up and away
Endless views of Chiangmai city (if the sky is clear), a national park to trek through and of course, the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, to appease your inner devotee. The Doi Suthep mountain is 40kms from the city and worth making a day-trip for. My companion and I picked a bike, but make sure you invest in a heavy-duty bike that can handle the winding uphill roads, because ours started over heating after about 20 minutes on the highway.
The weather is pleasant in Chiangmai in January when we visited (and tends to get cooler as you get higher), so make sure you’re well covered. Head to the Bhubing Palace first, if you’re a botany or flower enthusiast – it’s all about the well-manicured gardens, stopping to smell the roses and appreciating the finery that you’ll probably never have. The next stop was of course the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, which I found way too crowded to enjoy. The views from the wat are sublime (they’d better be, after the endless stairs you have to climb up to get there) but the temple itself was too crowded to buckle down and enjoy the space.
That’s why our next stop was the (shockingly) isolated Monta Than Waterfall at the Doi Suthep National park that is en-route the wat. Quiet, remote and cut off from the cacophony at the wat and the touristy rush in Chiangmai city, we loved the 40-50 min trek that brought us right back to the waterfall we started at. Carry a swimsuit and a change of clothes if you intend to take a dip and snacks to make a day out of it (no alcohol is allowed at the park). Tents pitched a few metres from the waterfall are where you can camp out if you choose to stay overnight. (Check details in advance on the park’s website)
The highest mountain in Thailand. The popular Kew Mae Pan that offers endless views, the promise of waterfalls, cloud forest and a vigorous workout. We were super excited about our day trip to Doi Inthanon. About 104kms away from Chiangmai city, the day trip seemed doable on paper.
However, we stopped midway to the destination because our bike was overheating, and we realised belatedly that we needed a much more powerful (read reliable) vehicle for the long/uphill journey. Don’t make the same mistake we did and rent an able car or engage a city tour group to organise your trip – you’ll find agents scattered all over the old city. There are a couple of hotels around the park (still quite far) and you can camp overnight, so make sure to plan your day trip as soon as you land in the city, so you have enough time to plan correctly. While we were disappointed at this development, we stopped over at the Grand Canyon Water Park where you can drown your sorrows in food, drink, zip-lining and other water-based adventures. It’s no Doi Inthanon, but for us eternal children, there’s no place more fun than one you can cannonball into the water at! A word to the wise, while Chiangmai old city’s incredible food, exciting night life, endless bazaars and touristy vibe might tempt you to sleep in and saunter around at leisure, give the great outdoors a chance, set the alarm earlier than you’d like to… and we’re promising rewards of the best kind. Sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls gushing, viewing points with soul-stirring coffee, the wind in your hair and lots, lots more. Get set, go.
We recommend planning these day trips on weekdays as weekends at any of the above involve dealing with long queues and large crowds (both locals + tourists)
Location: Chiang Mai City, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Getting there: Easily accessible via road and rail (Approx 685 kms from Bangkok, overnight bus and train, booked prior to travel is your best bet – you can get tickets on the day of travel, if you are lucky) and air (closest airport: Chiang Mai International Airport CNX)
Best time to visit: October – April
Other attractions: Elephant sanctuaries (Elephant Nature Park; Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary; Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand), San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
Read more on our adventures in our complete guide to Chiang Mai
I like getting drunk over the weekend like any other self-respecting corporate slave that’s usually attached to her desk. But my Grab Your Globe alter-ego basically can’t sit still – and that makes settling for knocking back brunch-time margaritas, every Sunday, difficult. Even when I’m stuck in the city, I’m itching to “do things” – beyond bar nights and book clubs, flying all the way to flamingos.
And that’s how I agreed to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning (hungover) to chase certain long-legged blushing hotties. Yep, I’m talking about the flamingos that live in the mud flats of Sewri. And if they can fly over 600km to get to their winter home, I could wake up pre-sunrise to meet the flaming feathers, right?