Girl’s Guide to Packing for your India Vacation!

“I just booked the trip of a lifetime,  a whirlwind tour of India; Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi. After finalizing the travel plans, I realized there were some really important details to work out-like what to wear.”

Shopping In India

Let’s go Sari Shopping!

My friend and I booked the trip of a lifetime a guided tour to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, with an independent side trip to Varanasi. After finalizing all the travel plans, I realized there are some details we really needed to think about like what to wear and pack. I read through a variety of blogs and travel sites detailing different opinions on what women should wear, some advice more conservative than others. I decided to go more middle of the road and once in India found I had clearly made the right choices! Here are some tips on what to pack for your first trip to India.

Fun Day Sari Shopping!

Fun Day Sari Shopping!

The main question most women have is what is appropriate wear in India? India is a very conservative country, dressing provocatively or too revealing is frowned upon. Rural areas and smaller cities seemed to be more conservative than bigger cities like Delhi and Jaipur. For clothes, I highly suggest to err on the side of caution.

A good rule is to make sure your knees and shoulders are covered and don’t wear anything too tight. Especially if you are visiting rural areas or smaller cities- dress conservatively. I am embarrassed to admit I was surprised that almost all women were wearing a salwar kameez or a sari, and very few were wearing western-style clothes.

Colorful Saris in Varanasi

Colorful Saris in Varanasi

The salwar is a loose pajama type pants and the kameez is the tunic top, while the Sari is like an Indian dress that you have to wrap. Both styles of clothing are so beautiful and come in a variety of bright colors and styles. I wish I could wear these colorful outfits every day! Even though we were dressed conservatively it was still obvious that we were tourists. We even had a few different men politely ask if they could take photos with us.

Most likely a good part of your day will be spent visiting tourist spots so bring some casual pants or outfits. A lot of women tourists wear light-weight linen-type loose pants. It is not appropriate for women to wear yoga pants or leggings without a long top or tunic over it. Wearing just leggings would look like you are wearing underclothing and also they would be too tight. I love the new harem-style pants, currently out that are tight at the bottom and loose everywhere else. These are appropriate and comfortable to wear during the day. One of the most versatile items I packed was a lightweight pair of hiking pants from Columbia. They dried fast, were super comfortable and didn’t wrinkle in my luggage. One exception would be if you were staying at a yoga retreat you could get away with yoga outfits. I did not see any women wearing shorts either, I didn’t see any men wearing shorts either.

Another question is what to wear at the hotel pool. The pool was pretty empty where we were staying but I think a one piece bathing suit is a reasonable garment to wear. I do want to visit Goa and other beaches in India on my next trip so I will have to research this further.

Super Cute Girl at the Taj Majal!

Super Cute Girl at the Taj Majal!

Luckily long skirts and maxi dresses are in this year! I ended up wearing both for the majority of the tour. These can be dressed up for nighttime or down for casual touring during the day. Because it is suggested that you cover up your shoulders, I do not suggest maxi dresses that have skinny straps or that are strapless. A sweater or cover-up sounds like a practical solution except that it is very hot in India. The temperatures range anywhere from 90’s to 105 during the tourist season. For the most part I wore short sleeve tops but I did bring a couple of chunky strap tank tops, more like sleeveless tops and wore them only twice. You definitely do not need a sweater during the hotter months. It was 100 degrees and sunny every day we were there in September. Instead of a sweater, a better solution is a light weight gauzy cover-up.

Village Outside of Jaipur

Village Outside of Jaipur

One fashion mistake I made was bringing a black skirt that had two long slits up the side. By day 5 I was starting to wonder if anyone cares or even notices what I am wearing, so I wore my H & M skirt with the slits on a detour to a small village outside of Jaipur, a woman pointed out the slits and motioned with her hand that they should be sewn together. It was more in a teasing tone as opposed to judgmental but still, I made sure to dress appropriately for the rest of the trip after the public shaming.

Don’t forget to pack a light-weight but versatile scarf to cover your shoulders if you wearing a tank top or if you are visiting a temple or a mosque. You probably will not need to cover your head but the scarf will come in handy if you are taking a rickshaw or walking around a lot as it can get quite dusty and hot. Shoes –everyone wears flip flops or sandals. Even at night unless you are going to a club dressy sandals or even casual ones were appropriate with dresses.

A Visit to the Taj Majal

A Visit to the Taj Majal

A few key factors to consider are temperature, culture, length of vacation and itinerary when packing for your trip. My friends from India suggested buying clothing when we got there, but before you rely on shopping abroad, I would review your itinerary to make sure you have time to do this. We arrived in Delhi late afternoon and after checking into the hotel and eating dinner, it was pretty late to venture out alone to purchase clothes.
Overall, I was happy that I packed a mix or comfortable but stylish clothes; we didn’t have time to shop until about day 4, which is when we did get a chance to buy some scarves and even a Sari. With some careful planning and packing your trip to India should be as amazing as ours!

Packed and Ready to Go!

Packed and Ready to Go!

Explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam

“Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter consists of over 70 streets selling everything from hand tailored suits to souvenirs. Visitors should not miss the Don Xuan Market; one of the largest and oldest covered markets in Hanoi.”

dong xuan market

Dong Xuan Market

Hanoi is a fast paced and colorful city where ancient culture and modern practices collide. Hanoi offers visitors a vastly different experience as opposed to Ho Chi Minh City due to its fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese and French influences. Although Hanoi is Vietnam’s second largest city most visitors tend to focus on the vibrant Old Quarter and the nearby Hoan Kiem Lake area .

A Visit to Hoan Kim Lake Hanoi

One of the most iconic images of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a memorable experience to stroll around this scenic lake in the evening when the lights of the bridge and pagodas are lit up and reflected in the water. After a long day of sightseeing visitors can relax on one of the surrounding benches and enjoy an ice cream or a cup of coffee; a favorite pastime with locals as well as tourists. One of the most scenic images of Hoan Kiem Lake is the illuminated Bridge of the Rising Son that leads to the Ngoc Son temple.

Hanoi

Bridge of the Rising Son

Experience Hanoi’s rich cultural history by taking in a traditional Vietnamese show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located across from Hoan Kiem Lake. This lively puppet show is a must see for any visitor to Hanoi. Puppeteers and live musicians enact traditional Vietnamese tales using intricately designed wooden puppets that splash and move across a watery stage.IMG_0537

Escape the crowds by ducking in for a cup of coffee at nearby Highland’s Coffee, located in the five story building overlooking Hoan Kim Lake. Anyone of the viewing decks in the building is a great place to watch the endless parade of scooters and crowds down on the street from high above.

Navigating Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is filled with a variety of colorful shops and markets. Traditionally many of the city streets are named after the items they sell. For example Hang Gai is known for items made of silk, Hang Ma sells paper decorations and Hang Bo sells baskets. This area is coined the original 36 streets as it refers to the original guilds established there and the items they sold and produced. Now the Old Quarter consists of over 70 streets selling everything from hand tailored suits to souvenirs. Located on the far northern end of the Old Quarter is the Don Xuan Market. This historical market is Hanoi’s largest and oldest covered market.

IMG_0405

Old Quarter Hanoi

One distinct feature of the Old Quarter is its unusual architecture. Many of the buildings are a fusion of Vietnamese and French influences. One style specific to Vietnam is called a tube house, these buildings line the Old Quarter streets and typically house a business on the ground level and the top floor is a narrow and tall tube-like living space.  Visitors to the Old Quarter will have to try the regional specialty Pho; a traditional noodle soup served with slices of beef or chicken and fresh bean sprouts. Pho is available at any number of crowded small store front restaurants that line the streets of the Old Quarter.

Getting Around Hanoi

IMG_0342

Scooter Girl Hanoi

The Old Quarter is best explored by walking, but even those equipped with a detailed map and the best navigational skills will have a hard time maneuvering the streets according to plan. Part of the charm of Hanoi is getting lost in the maze-like streets lined with colorful shops and overflowing markets.

Aside from walking, an exciting way to tour the city center is by Cyclo. These bicycle or scooter driven taxis are fun and safe way to experience the lively and crowded streets. It is essential to negotiate the price before getting in to ensure the best deal.

Visitors to South Asia will enjoy Hanoi for its unique fusion of French, Chinese and Vietnamese influences, its endless shopping opportunities, and the hustle and bustle of every day life.

Culture Shock Hanoi!

Hanoi is a vibrant city with an intense energy that captivates its visitors, sweeping them up in a whirlwind of chaos and excitement.

Equipped with a crumpled up map of a walking tour I copied from Frommers online, I felt confident I could navigate the winding maze-like streets of the Old Quarter of Hanoi to find the Dong Xuan Market. But as soon as I stepped out of the hotel onto the main street the buzz of a hundred scooters whizzing through the streets made my head spin. Weaving through a wall of brightly colored scooters we crossed the road carefully but quickly in a frogger-like fashion. They don’t believe in traffic lights I told my friend as we somehow made it safely to the other side.

The flower festival was going on and according to the map we had to head straight through it to get to the market. Although I am not sure I understood what was going on it was quite the occasion! Throngs of people crowded the streets and carts overflowing with bright yellow, pink and purple flowers lined the thoroughfares along the reflective Hoan Kim Lake.  Uniformed guards dressed in conservative green and gold uniforms stood stoically along carefully measured points along the sidewalk keeping the peace. After wandering around the lake for a bit we decided to focus back on our original goal; the market.

We were on our way to Dong Xuan Market; the largest covered market in Hanoi filled with mass quantities of clothes, trinkets, vegetables, and household goods. What I didn’t realize was that to get to the market we would have to navigate through the 36 streets of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Coined 36 streets because each street is named after the item they sell; a tradition carried over from Hanoi’s distant past when guilds made up the quarter. The term 36 streets is a little misleading because the area actually consists of a tangled web of 70 plus streets. Each street begins with the word hang, which means store or shop.

For example, Hang Dao is an entire street that sells silk products, and Hang Ma street sells paper products like decorations and paper lanterns, Hang Mam sells fish and fish products like sauces and dried goods. There is one whole street Hang Gai dedicated to selling just hemp and rope. Its overwhelming to see an entire  street with every single shop selling one item! Crossing through the maze of Hang streets is not as easy as the map made it look.

It was hard to focus on the map without getting sidetracked. I was in sensory overload- bordering on culture shock. A bicycle sped by carrying a multitude of straw brooms in all shapes and sizes. An older Vietnamese women zoomed up out of nowhere selling little doughnuts from a black box attached to the back of her bike. Crowded restaurants sit on every corner, their mini blue or red plastic tables filled with hungry people eating Pho; a traditional type of Vietnamese noodle soup.

We wandered into a covered market filled with rows of tables, big plastic buckets overflowed with live eels, fresh fish, shrimps and even worms. The intense odor of briny fish, the whirl and fumes of the motor scooters, the constant chatter of a million voices, and the chaos of throngs of people will inevitably overload even the calmest person. I felt irritated, agitated and excited all at once. Culture shock!

I decided to give in to the madness and ditch the map, all the Hang’s were starting to look alike anyway. Finally, after hours of wandering around looking through shop after shop we found Dong Xuan Market. What looked like a short distance on the map turned into an all day excursion. Located on the corner of Dong Xuan and Hang Chieu streets, this bustling market houses about 50 businesses selling everything from food and appliances to clothing and shoes.  By now we were both getting tired and hungry so we headed back to the Hoan Kim Lake area.

Tired of shopping at this point we intuitively made it back to Hoan Kim Lake rather quickly. Before attempting to cross the crowded festival again, we stopped at Highlands Coffee in the five-story building overlooking the lake.  Standing out on the balcony, I was mesmerized by the sheer number and movement of people below. Even from high above I felt energized and excited. Hanoi has an infectious energy, the chaos of the crowds, the noise of the scooters, its hard not to get swept away in its chaotic whirlwind.

My advice? Ditch the map and get lost in the maze of winding streets and shops of the Old Quarter.  Grab a coffee and stroll around the beautiful Hoan Kim Lake.

To read more about Hanoi check out my article “Explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi Vietnam”