Havelock, Andaman: Now & How

I've been asked over and again on traveling to Havelock - that exotic island that seems detached from the rest of the world. It is natural to think getting there will require great feat, but it really isn't that complicated - as long as you know what to expect. For your benefit, here I've compiled my experiences to ease your travel woes.


Rather, why go now, than later. Still pristine and almost untouched from the inevitable eventual scarring of development, Havelock in the Andaman Sea is what Phuket was like, 20-30 years ago, before the hordes of tourists encouraged establishments that favour quick cash flows.

Diving here is excellent, rivaling the best of Thailand, even. Fine, sandy beaches meet turqoise waters. Contrary to what one may expect, the island is clean and its tenants conscious of the environment. Well, most. The tourist crowd is a healthy mix of different nationalities, not exclusively Indians.

On certain days of the year, you get an almost private beach to yourself. Its name does not strike a familiar nod, many do not even know this cluster of islands exist (myself included, three years ago). But now this is my favourite place in all of India. 

The following is applicable to Malaysians - but most tourists heading to India will require a visa.

1. What?
First and foremost - apply for a Tourist visa. All applications are submitted through a visa outsource agency and no, you cannot apply in person at the High Commission of India.

2. How?
Online form here http://www.indiavisa.com.my/application/visa_application_form.php. Follow the instructions to fill the form. DO NOT print this out and submit it handwritten - the embassy does not accept this format. Complete the form online and print at the end, bring this along with a confirmed return flight to India (err, there is a way to go around this if you haven't gotten a ticket yet wink wink) and a photocopy of your passport.

3. Where?
The list of visa submission locations are available here http://www.indiavisa.com.my/.
In KL, it takes 3 working days to obtain your visa (inclusive of the day you submit). If applying at other centers (Johor or Penang), it takes about 4 working days - bear in mind, this does not include the day of submission. Be sure to buffer ample time before your trip!

4. Others
Unfortunately, a biometric scan is in place, so you cannot use an agent to apply the visa for you. The only exceptions are for senior citizens above 70 years old and children below 7 years old.

While filling the form online, you will be prompted to upload a photo. If you don't have one, that's fine. My recommendation is to go to the visa center and get your photo taken there. That way, the photo requirements are well met (this may be pricier than getting the photo taken elsewhere, but the agency may not accept it if specifications are not met).


Getting to Havelock, two parts: flight from one of the major cities in mainland India (New Delhi/ Kolkata / Chennai / Mumbai) to Port Blair; followed by a ferry from Port Blair to Havelock.

1. Flight
These airlines fly into Havelock from a major Indian city: SpiceJet, Air India, Jet Airways, GoAir and indiGo.

Check www.cleartrip.com for an idea of rates and timing. As the airport (Veer Savarkar International Airport, Port Blair) is also a navy air base, commercial flights stop operating by 3pm or so.

All foreigners entering Port Blair will need to obtain the Restricted Area Permit. Easy peasy. Once you arrive at the International Terminal (a small little airport), make your way to the left where a large table and several officers are on standby. This checkpoint is hard to miss and in any case, the officers will get you to register first before allowing you to collect your luggage.

Fill in the form, hand it over to the immigration officer, he takes a photo of you with the webcam and later hands you a piece of paper (permit) along with your passport. The entire procedure takes about 10 minutes to complete (go to the loo if you want to, the officers are very chilled out), depending on the number of foreigners waiting in line. Do NOT lose this permit!

2. Ferry
A number of ferries operate between Port Blair and Havelock island. I say don't stress over this, just use Vinnie's Meet and Greet services, let them know the time you land and they will sort out the ferry tickets.

I've seen the queues for tickets early in the morning (before the blasted ticket counter is even open) and trust me, you're better off paying a small sum of money for people in the know to sort it out.

If you land at 1pm, there is enough time to catch the last ferry at 2pm. If you land after 1pm, then you will need to spend the night in Port Blair and go on a cultural trip while you are there :-)

The best ferry in my opinion is the Makruzz. You leave your luggages at the pier, and someone will load them. The government ferries, on the other hand, will require you to bring them in yourself. Alternatively, you can seek out the many "helpers" loitering the pier... remember to tip them!

The fare difference between the two ferries is about $5 (RM15) one way.


Go to TripAdvisor and take a look at the photos available on the resort. The reality is, there are no polished silverware, no plush duvet nor plucked and peeled grapes at the ready. Be prepared, this is definitely not the luxurious chateau du grandeur. Accommodations are basic huts (shared toilets) and the Tented Cabanas. The last time I was there, I stayed at the Tented Cabanas. They were cleaned on a daily basis and to me, that's what matters. No in-house a/c (really, you don't need them - it gets quite chilly at night!) but there is hot water! I also like the fact that the resort is environmentally conscious - reuse of grey water, no complimentary water bottles (there are free refills at the cafe, though), etc.

At the risk of sounding like I am endorsing these guys, DiveIndia is possibly the most genuine resort in Havelock, no frills - what you see is what you get!


If you dig the peace and quiet, and/or an avid diver, you'll love Havelock. There are no malls, no cinemas, no traffic and hardly any phone reception. A perfect getaway.

However, IF you find yourself getting sick of curled up in the hammock with a book, taking long, quiet walks on the beach - then fret not, there are other things you can do: Rent a cycle and go to Beach No 7 (beautiful dense forest by the beach!), kayak amongst the mangroves or take a jungle walk. There are a few bars too, if you fancy a watering hole.

When to go? Brochures say the best time to go is November-April, when it is sunniest. Many shun the islands during monsoon, but when I was there in June, it was so peaceful and lovely overcast weather. It wasn't even raining that often! There are showers, but it isn't pouring heavily. I'd say even try to come in June or July - make the most of the quiet season and enjoy the less scorching weather.

Hope this helps. For more information, read Vinnie's version of travel FAQs (http://www.islandvinnie.com/trip.html)

Hurry, the tropical island awaits!

For information on how to apply for an Indian tourist visa (for Malaysians), click here.

A Little Piece of Home

This post is going to induce buckets of drool. Seriously. You wouldn't stand a chance.

Since moving to Havelock, images of hokkien mee, nasi lemak, nasi kandar, and various homecooked meals have been haunting me in both waking moments and deep slumber. These cravings could have picked a better place and timing, but luck is on my side. 

Home in May!

How I miss home terribly, it aches! Nothing beats that familiar comfort of stepping into a home you grew up in. The almost-deaf Pickles could sniff me even though she hasn't seen me nor could she hear me but it was almost as though someone flicked a switch on her when I arrived. She started frantically wagging her tail and scampering around the house, trying to reunite with yours truly :') 

A wholly productive week back home, sorted all sorts of miscellaneous errands - was out of the house every morning by 8-9am! Of course, no neglect is given to where meals are concerned. Spoiled with choice, mum gave me the enviable task to decide what and where to eat for breakfast. Even made a collaborative effort with Tua Ee to make perut ikan!

Perut ikan literally means fish stomach. Although not used in copious amount, it is supposed to be the star of the dish. For me, I like the sharp, spicy and sour broth and its accompanying ingredients more than the fish stomach!

Tua Ee is certainly the head chef. We arrived slightly after 10am but she has already prepared the paste (possibly the most work involved) with some of the ingredients were already bubbling away. 

The real challenge with perut ikan is in preparation. A mountain of gazilion different types of vegetables need to be chopped up, julienned, cleaned and washed.

The daun kaduk (a dark, heart-shaped herb-y leaf) can take a while to finsh chopping, they wilt to almost nothing so A LOT of them are needed for this dish. They are the heart and soul of the perut ikan! Well, after the perut ikan, that is. 

And voila, the final product!

Looking at this photo is making my heart beat faster and me squirm uncomfortably. Hours of hard labour, more hours of magic in the making, bringing everything in the pot infused to become the best perut ikan I've ever had....

'Wet' popiah of bean sprouts, mangkuang, chopped peanuts, chilli sauce and a plethora of other ingredients that burst with flavour in your mouth. It's one of those things that you don't realise you've missed until you've bitten into it. 

Properly spoiled, again. Tua Ee makes me the Huan Cio Hu (mackerel stuffed with chilli).

With a heaping of extra chilli paste, heavenly with plain steamed rice. Best eaten with hands, so you can lick them later! (And even after washing hands, the fragrance still lingers)

Another favourite of mine, stir fried lotus root, broccoli, bamboo shoots, carrots. Simple but lip-smackingly awesome.

Kopi peng, and a date with the Bionic bestie.

Cencalok pork at the unassuming little stir-fry stall in New Lane, Penang. All sorts of goodness.

Droolicious belachan chicken. Soooooo good, crispy on the outside, tender and soft on the inside. Sigh....

I don't need to tell you how good those few items were.

And a long-anticipated trip to Baling for Ji Ee's heavenly cuisine.

Kepo at the kitchen-

Sar bi hu (Three-flavored fish). Not sure why it is called this way but a generous amount of garlic and chillis accompanies a crispy-fried fish.

Pai kut ong - Ji Ee's signature dish and the awesome gravy is a heavily guarded secret!

Another signature dish - the sweet and sour fish with generous shavings of shredded cucumber, onion, red chillis and coriander.

Of course, how could we not order the prawn tomyum? Simply bursting with flavour, we kept the rest of the delicious tomyum broth and had another round of tomyum, with noodles. Yummers!

And to round it off, Pickles makes a guest appearance :)


Calcutta's Charm

.... is largely found in its cuisine. To be brutally honest, Calcutta is not one of my favourite cities to roam or wander in, but the food here certainly makes it up. A bustling city, it appears to be forever warm and humid, filled with dust and coated in grime. Don't let that put you off, of course. Let the journey be the experience, the destination a means to the journey etc etc.


It was also mango season! Oh my, I've never had mangoes as sweet and flavorful as the Alphonso mangoes. These are mostly grown in Bombay. When extracted to create something different - mango ice-cream, anyone? - what a match made in heaven! We got a bunch of different types of mangoes to try but it was an easy win. Deep, rich orange in colour, the texture and fragrance of the mangoes are unbeatable!

Another of my absolute favourite and must-have in Kolkata - biryani! I am head over heels in love with mutton biryani. Most of the time we will take away a couple of greasy versions of them at the airport, stuff our faces and crash.

This one is takeaway from Biryani Express. Spiced rice cooked in a covered pot with chicken/mutton and potatoes - it is most blissfully eaten with hands and a generous heaping of coriander yoghurt. Wallop with hands, of course. A more popular version of the biryani is at the Indian Muslim community called Arsalan - next time will head back there for a shot (and to stuff our faces, secondary).

Blissfully tantalising...


Vinnie escorts me for some Kolkatan street food. The famous Kathi Roll @ Kusum.

Likely my first street food in mainland India. One cooks at the stove, two others help to assemble the rolls and the taukeh guards the cashier.

The rolls are paratha-like (our version of roti canai). Vinnie ordered ours the special one, with egg and mutton and chicken. Some pickled onions are added, along with piping hot spiced chicken and mutton with vegetables - served on top of the paratha with a squeeze of lime. 

I definitely approve. There's something satisfying about stuffing your face in an alley with freshly made kathi roll and sipping carbonated Thums Up.

A sweet dessert prepared by Aunty.

That's pretty much all I have for Kolkata - there are more but I always neglect my camera on food excursions. Hope to fix that one of these days.

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...