Exploring Jaipur with Air Asia
As a first time traveller to India, I had no idea what to expect, my best reference to the diverse and colourful land was a few movies and my favourite novel ‘Shantaram‘! Although thinking back to Roberts words and the pure brilliance in which he describes his life in India nothing could have prepared me for the sensory and emotional overload I felt when waking up in Jaipur.
As a city in the famous Golden Triangle, and with its extraordinary culture and history, Jaipur holds a prominent position in Rajasthan tourism. The charm of Jaipur can be seen in the rich clan of historical forts and palaces. Also known as the Pink City, because of its buildings and monuments within the pink wall that gates the entire old city. The historical reason for the uniform colour lies with the Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh (1835- 80) and his extreme strategy to impress Prince Albert during his 1876 tour of India!
After 16 years since Air Asia first took flight, the airline boasts an expansive network of unique routes and connections allowing you to expand your wanderlust. I was lucky enough to be invited on Air Asia’s inaugural flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jaipur that took place on Monday the 5th of February as they added another gem to the list of amazing places to explore! You’ve heard the cliche’ the journey is the destination, that couldn’t be more true for Air Asia X! Read on to hear about my fabulous experience to Jaipur with Air Asia!
Sunset from Hot Air Balloon, Jaipur India, Feb 2018
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Flying to Jaipur with Air Asia
Myself and around 20 Air Asia all-stars, journalist and influencers took part in a special ceremony to celebrate the inaugural flight to Jaipur with Air Asia! The check-in gate was an array of colour and chaos which seemed to match the characteristic of Jaipur nicely. We were greeted by the beautifully dressed hostess and shown to our roomy seats in the ‘quiet area’ section on the Airbus A330.
This new service to Jaipur is part of Air Asia’s goal to meet the growing demand for regional connectivity to tier-II cities in India. Through the increase in flight operations from airports, India’s regional connectivity will be enhanced. The airline will operate four times weekly, with promotional fares offered regularly! (Syd to Jaipur is around $350 AUD one way)
I flew from Sydney to KL with a day layover before my flight to Jaipur. The entire AirAsia X journey was an absolute pleasure, from the very moment I checked in at Sydney to when I arrived home a week later! Yes, it is a budget airline and things are fairly basic but I found several standouts from the leg room, to the customer service to the delicious onboard meals!
It’s actually genuinely impressive how comfortable the cabin is, despite the full flight from Syd to KL there was plenty of space in the overhead locker! And on my flight to KL to Jaipur I was able to lay down! The other standout was definitely food. During this trip, I flew on 4 flights, so that’s 4 meals and all of the meals I tried were the best I have ever eaten. On any flight. Ever.
Although not included in the price of your ticket, to add on a meal or buy onboard is less than $10! Like I said above all of the food I tried was really good, in fact, I didn’t even feel like I was eating aeroplane food! I sampled the butter masala, nasi lamek, chicken lasagna and green Thai curry!
Tips to make your experience extra comfortable:
+Order a meal!
+Make sure you fill up a water bottle before boarding. Although you can buy a bottle on board, you can only use cash or they have a minimum on credit card.
+Ask for a window seat. Views of the clouds and cities as you land are just amazing.
+Book in the quiet area!
+ No entertainment is provided for free. There are iPads available for hire with entertainment preloaded – they can be booked in advance, or purchased on board for about $18. I always download some movies or TV shows from Netflix/Stan to my Ipad and some podcasts and reading material to my phone.
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The Pink City
The enthralling and historical Jaipur and Rajasthan’s capital is the perfect introduction to the extraordinary land that is India. The city’s colourful, and chaotic streets are a delightful mix of old and new. Frantic buses hustle against marching elephants, whilst behind the madness of the bazaar men sit sipping homemade chai from tiny cups. Everywhere buzzing rickshaws survey for easy prey and monkeys swing from one power line to the next. Yet in the midst of all this mayhem, the true splendours of Jaipur’s majestic past, stand quietly in a wave of dramatic escape and calmness.
The capital of Rajasthan offers an abundance of architectural, cultural and historical marvels. A distinct pink wall that gates the entire old city really is just the beginning. Wander around the gorgeous mirror and glass mosaics that turn Amber fort palace hall into an inverted jeweller box, bask in the presence at the dusky pink facade of the Hawa Mahal. Let the curiosity tale over at the outdoor observatory of Jantar Mantar, an astronomer playground. Get lost amidst the chaos of the bazaar, or flee the city and discover the other side of Jaipur with a hot air balloon ride of the countryside.
‘There are some parts of the world that once you visit, get into your heart and never leave. Although I was only there for a short time India has found a place next to my beloved Turkey and Bali. There is something about the devastating yet rich culture. I was overwhelmed by the exotic architecture of Jaipur, the crazy streets, and taken by surprise as I landed in our hot air balloon in the middle of lush green fields! Moments after arriving my senses were overloaded with concentrated intensity from the smells of spices, the sounds of chaotic traffic, the colours of palaces and saris that women wear so beautifully. India you stole my heart and I will be back.’
After exploring the wonderful pink city head to Jaisalmer known as the Golden city and Jodhpur the blue city which are all in Rajasthan state.
Hot Air Balloon Ride, Jaipur India, Feb 2018
What to do in Jaipur
Here are some of our highlights from the interesting and impressive Pink City!
-Bask in the presence of Hawa Mawal
-Visit the weird and wonderful Chohki Dani
-Discover the ancient Amber Fort
-Explore more of India in Hot Air Balloon Ride
-Wanderlust over the views from Nahargarh Fort
-Be inspired by The City Palace
-Shop till you drop at The Bazaar Johari Bazar, Tripolia Bazar, Nehru Bazar
-Explore the Chand Baori
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The view of Jaipur from Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur India, Feb 2018
I flew to Jaipur with Air Asia and was a guest as part of their inaugural flight. The media trip was a shared famil between Air Asia and Rajasthan Tourism. As always all opinions, photos and ideas remain my own.
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About Nha Trang Cooking Class
As a part of The Anam’s new cultural experiences, guest can embed themselves into a ‘day in the life’ situation with a Vietnamese family from the neighbouring countryside of Nha Trang.
Designed around the idea of families coming together for a delectable feast the day-long tour saw us visiting different local markets and shops and learning about daily life over traditional Vietnamese ice-coffed before sitting down to a three-course meal.
We are picked up by our host Dat who shares a little knowledge of Vietnam and daily life before asking US what we might like to cook. The menu is completely left up to us and we settle on morning glory, chicken with lemongrass and chilli and bánh xèo.
To buy the ingredients for the afternoon’s cooking class, everyone together visits the local’s markets, a herb stall, bakery and noodle making house. Dat introduces us to local farmers and artisans offering insight into each traditional trade.
‘We give you a unique inside view to the traditional style of Vietnamese cooking, renowned for its combination of 5 taste senses and use of the freshest local ingredients, making it the best and healthiest cuisine in the world.’ Dat explains his love for the Vietnamese cuisine.
The other amazing thing I loved about our day is finding out about Dat’s charity and community work. They help the facilitation of sponsoring children in their community. These kids are disadvantaged and the money helps to support their education. They have a guest house on their property that is available for volunteers taking part in charity projects.
‘At Nha Trang cooking class (VIET GARDEN) we believe in giving back to the people in the community who are most in need. Every tour, we contribute to our chosen charity project, usually focused on helping individual children who cannot afford an education and are living in poverty. Together we can change the lives of people who have little chance and even less hope. We will pay for their education and give them the tools they need to live a fulfilled life. We are dedicated to their cause and are fully transparent in showing you how a percentage of the cost of every tour and every donation gets to the people we have chosen. We have included a page on this website listing everyone who has contributed, giving full exposure to what our charity does with the money that you spend.’
Shopping at the local markets
After a brief bus introduction and the choosing of today’s menu we jumped off the air con bus to sticky Vietnamese heat and wander to a fresh produce stall where the lady is smiling ear to ear at our arrival. Here Dat offers up knowledge of how local product becomes medicine and what herbs and plants are good for digestion, congestion, cold and flu and anti-aging. These practices and plants have been used for centuries, the lady nods on in agreeance as Dat explains.
We walk the streets and stumble upon our next traditional stall. A bakery! And one unlike I have ever seen before. It is closed, Dat says the baker has finished for the morning. We open up the doors anyways and then the baker appears out of nowhere. He doesn’t speak English but gives us a demo of the process he uses to bake over 2500 baguettes daily.
Ever wondered how rice noodles are made?
It’s a long process that takes skill and patience. The same method that was used 100’s of years ago is still used today.
Using broken rice the process starts by soaking it in water for up to a day to soften before it is ground up.
The ground rice is then mixed with the tapioca starch for flexibility to create a white paste-like batter. The paste is then heated over a large skillet much like cooking crepes.
Once hardened the sheet is removed and placed on racks for drying. It is then placed on the roof in the sun to dry for a day. The final step sees the rice paper being put in cutting machine to create the noodles.
There is nothing I like more than a good exploration amongst the locals as they swarm the markets for fresh produce.
Here we pick up the majority of ingredients for today’s cook. There is everything here including vegetables, fruits, seafood, meats, herbs and spices, sauces and even flowers. It’s an array of colours, overwhelming smells and something interesting to look at on every corner.
In between our shopping expedition, we stopped at Dat’s favourite coffee shop for a bit of a break and to try the traditional Vietnamese coffee.
Next to the cafe is a mat weaving artist who is putting together their latest creation. Someone of us give this old-school practice a go whilst other enjoy getting out of the heat and cooling down with an ice-coffee.
What makes Vietnamese Coffee special?
If you have tried Vietnamese coffee before you will know that it’s pretty bloody decent, in fact, it is a little addictive which makes sense since Vietnam is the second largest coffee growers in the world. The special preparation process, as well as Robusta beans, helps give Vietnamese coffee its particular full taste.
Coarsely ground beans go into a Phin which is a low-tech device that mimics the combination of a French Press and drip filter. The Phin sits on top of the cup and the beans are weighted down resulting in a strong brew. This is then topped with sweet condensed milk a practice that began because when the French occupied Vietnam fresh cows milk wasn’t readily available for their coffee or tea.
In Northern Vietnam, this is called ca phe nau (brown coffee), while in the South it’s called ca phe sua (milk coffee).
Course 1- Morning Glory
The readily available vegetable Morning glory is very popular Vietnam. This inexpensive water spinach can be enjoyed stir fried with sauces or served fresh as a salad. The day of our arrival to the Anam we were hosted for lunch at Lang Viet and served a glorious morning glory salad, when Dat asked what we wanted to cook the vote was unanimous to replicate that yummy starter.
At the market, the lady used a double ended blade to shred the morning glory into thin strands. We then make the dressing which is a combination of garlic, chilli, sugar, lime and fish sauce. We put the garlic, chilli and sugar together in a mortar and use a pestle to crush and pound until it starts to resemble a paste, the dressing is finished with a big squeeze of lime and fish sauce.
We then use a traditional woven pan to remove the skins from peanuts and chop small to sprinkle on top of our salad for some crunch and extra texture.
Course 2- Chicken with Lemongrass and chilli
Next up we cook one of Dat’s favourites, juicy chicken that has been marinated and then served with turmeric rice. The flavour combination of hot, salty, sweet and fresh from the lemongrass make this dish a winner. It was also incredibly easy!
– 200 gram skinless, boneless chicken breast or chicken thighs
– 2 lemongrass stalks (slice and finely chop)
– 2 spoon of fish sauce
– 1tbsp superfine sugar, to taste
– tbsp of pepper
– 2 red chiles, halved, seeded, and shredded, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, crushed
– 1 tbsp ground peanut
– Serve with a pickle and turmeric steamed rice.
Trim any fat from the thighs and cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces. Remove the tough outer layers of the lemongrass and trim the top and base. Mince the rest—the softer part of the lemongrass—as finely as you can. Put half of this into a bowl with the fish sauce, sugar, half of the chiles, half of the garlic, and the chopped chicken. Mix together with your hands, cover with plastic wrap, and put into the fridge. Let marinate for at least 1/2 hours.
Heat the oil in a wide-based saucepan or a wok set over medium heat. Add remained garlic till smell good, add the chicken and cook on all sides, getting a really good colour all over it. Add the reserved chiles, reserved lemongrass, and the onion and stir-fry until the onion starts to soften. Be careful not to burn the chiles or the lemongrass. Pour in the coconut juice, reduce the heat, and cover. Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, increase the heat, and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced. You want a mixture that is wetter than a stir-fry but drier than a braise. Check for seasoning to balance, adjusting with sugar and fish sauce. Scatter with cilantro leaves and ground peanut, if using, and serve with steamed rice.
Course 3- Bánh Xèo
Bánh xèo is something everyone should try when visiting Vietnam! The xèo literally refers to the sizzling sounds it makes when you cook the batter, the whole name can be loosely translated to ‘sizzling cake’.
Bánh xèo is a great snack or street food that’s meant to be eaten with your hands. Inside our crispy savoury crepe was seafood, chicken, bean sprouts and shallots and served with lettuce, herbs and special dipping sauce.
Nha Trang Cooking Class
‘The ‘A Day in the Life’ Cultural Cooking Tour is the latest initiative from The Anam property to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to supporting the local population and its businesses. ‘
The ‘A Day in the Life’ Cultural Cooking Tour is offered daily from 9am from The Anam and includes transfers by car or Vespa, tour guide, entrance fees, banh mi baguettes, coffee, a three-course meal including soft drinks and local beer, recipes and insurance. It is priced from 1,360,000 VND (USD 59) per person based on a family or group of 5-6 guests. Prices for smaller groups and families are available on request.’