Fort Kochi, Kerala. You were just what I needed for the busiest fortnight I’ve had so far on this trip. Planning only to stay 4 nights, we ended up adding a few nights at a time until it became 2 weeks. The WiFi, although not perfect, it’s been consistently the best so far which is surprising as I’d been told to expect the worst before we arrived. I also think this was the perfect introduction to India as it’s pretty quiet and laid back compared to what I’ve read - I’ve been expecting a massive culture shock that still hasn’t hit.
We kick off the day with another airport kerfuffle whilst heading from Krabi to Bangkok - we got dropped off at the wrong place and then the flight was delayed! I’m freaking out that we’re going to miss our connection as we were already cutting it fine anyway. As we’re queuing to check in I realised I’d forgotten to prepay for checked bags (DOH!) as our luggage was definitely overweight and that this was the only airline that didn’t allow 2 bags in cabin - usually we have our main backpacks and then small bags with laptops in. We’re watching everyone ahead of us frantically repacking their cases after they get weighed and charged and we just resort to the fact we’re going to have to pay the expensive extra weight fees. In what seems like a miracle, the guy at our counter weighs our bags (each 2 kilos+ over) says we don’t need to check bags AND we’re ok to take a second bag on too.
I feel like the universe had our backs that day - if we’d have had to check our bags and wait for them at the other side it was pretty likely we’d miss our flight to India. Phew 😅
We get to Bangkok and leg it to the check in desk which is obvs desk no.1 - the furthest desk away from us and feels like miles away when you’re carrying a bag as heavy as mine ha! 🙈 At the Air Asia desk, when asked for our visas that we prearranged and paid £70 for, I realised I’ve printed a copy of the application form and not the bloody visa itself. Struggling to connect to the WiFi I’m in a full-on tizz about getting the visa and worrying that perhaps it wasn’t granted and I didn’t check properly? What if we miss the flights? What if I can’t get a new one?
I’ve always wanted to travel and visiting India especially has been up there with one of the few places I am desperate to see and I’ve been SO excited about this part of the trip. This is what happens when you work right up to the moment you leave for the airport - disorganised and unprepared.
Anyone who knows me will remember the passport saga of 2014 - when I banged on for a good few months about travelling to Asia, smugly waved everyone goodbye at work to then return to the office the next day having lost all of the money on my ‘trip of a lifetime’ (nearly £1k) because I couldn’t find my passport and had to rebook for 6 months later. What these two instances have in common is working too much and not making time to prepare. Will I ever learn??
After spending a small fortune on internet data I was able to log in and see:
VISA STATUS : GRANTED - click here to view your e-visa
Thank F for that!
Luckily the nice lady at the check-in counter ran up to the office and printed a copy of my visa for me, we checked our bags and even had enough time to grab a Subway.
The flight into Kochi didn't land until 1am so I was extra tired and apprehensive. As a female in India, I was so nervous about wearing/saying/doing the right thing so as not to cause any offence and I know that in some areas the level of respect for women is somewhat low. Add to this that as I was queuing to board the flight, a well dressed Indian chap barged me out of the way to cut in front of me (why can’t people understand queuing!!) and then was sat behind me on the plane and preceded to shake my chair and knee me in the back the entire flight. I feel guilty now for saying this but I couldn’t help but think ‘it’s started already!’ On the flight, it was really impressive watching the crew of air hostesses manage their predominantly male, pushy passengers. Fortunately though, the flight was pretty quiet so me and Ben got our own row of seats so we could stretch out and sleep, undisturbed.
The airport was a little scary as it was so quiet at that time of night and depending on who you get at the visa desk depends on how smooth the process is. Mine was straightforward although for some reason they couldn’t take my fingerprint - after several attempts though I managed to get through. Ben on the other hand was asked a lot more questions but we both got our stamps and were on our way.
We made it to our homestay which was down a side street off the main road. The door was unlocked but no one was there so we rang the bell. It was SO loud, and the owners quickly woke up to check us in. The room was simple but quiet and at this point we were just grateful to sleep.
The next morning we needed to head out for breakfast and I was still a bit nervous. We only have carry-on size bags with us, so I’ve got limited options of what to wear but wanting to make sure my legs and shoulders are covered with loose fitting clothing. I’ve been pretty much living in my trusty leggings but here, anything tight is also frowned upon. Also, it’s JUST SO HOT so the lighter the clothing the better! I end up wearing my 'Asia' trousers and t-shirt and really couldn’t look anymore like a typical ‘traveller’ 😂
As well as the clothing tips, I’d also been told to forget some of my English manners and politeness because it can be seen as weak - it’s best to be more abrupt and firm and that there’s no need to say thank you after every kind gesture. I was also warned as a woman that a friendly arm touch to a guy is not OK and to quickly apologise if I accidentally do AND to not smile at men as it can be seen as provocative and flirtatious. 😐
Just imagine me walking around either looking at the floor or glaring straight ahead like a miserable bitch for the first hour of that day and you get the picture. 😂
We leave the homestay for brekkie though and quickly learn that this town is way more laid back than we were expecting. Many of the locals are wearing traditional clothing but there are just as many who aren’t - all looking at Facebook or chatting to friends on their iPhones. I’ve clearly been generalising the entire population of India (Ooops!) Some people smile, some say hello, others give you a death stare - so it’s the same as the UK really 😂
I did notice that I was stared at a lot, particularly by men and they didn’t make any effort to hide what they were staring at if you catch my drift, even though I was suitably covered. That was really unnerving at first but you kind of get used to it. At times you also feel like a celeb when young girls keep looking over until one of them says hello and then they run off giggling to each other. It’s cute!
Fort Kochi as a town has a lot of European influence particularly British, Dutch and Portuguese - probably why we’ve felt so at home here - and the predominant religions are Christianity and Judaism - who knew?! We’re missing the festivities at home so being able to see a few Christmas trees was pretty nice.
I first picked this place because I’d seen it on the TV show (not the film) The Real Marigold Hotel about India as a great place to retire (not that I’m retiring!) but it just looked so friendly and welcoming especially for westerners. I’d also found an article that names Fort Kochi as a great place for digital nomads with plenty of trendy Internet cafes - and they were so right!
I mentioned at the beginning that this was the busiest fortnight so far and it has been seriously crazy. I manage the design and production of 3 local magazines, both print and web, I also freelance every week for a container shipping line and a data solutions company whilst also working on branding and website design for creative business owners. I’ve been so grateful to find a place with multiple cafes to work from that serve delicious, healthy (and some not so healthy) foods and to be welcome to stay a while as I crack on with work.
A few of the cafe owners were interested to see what we were working on and we ended up getting to know some really lovely people. We met a really nice girl called Ella who was in Kochi on a 1 year visa, living and working with her Indian boyfriend at his cafe - she became our go-to for all questions about Kochi and recommended our next destination in Goa. Another guy we met called Mathew has properties all over southern India and he also works remotely so he was curious to find out how we were able to work from our laptops. He showed us around the hostel he runs called ‘Happy Camper’ and we were able to see all the art on the walls that has been created by guests when they come to stay. For less than £5 per night it’s the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen with Nutella French toast to die for ;)
It wasn’t all work though and we did manage to go out a few times and enjoy the local area. On the first day we just went on our own walking tour of the town. We got to see the Chinese fishing nets which were awesome and we stayed a while watching a few guys fishing in the waves. When looking for ‘Fort Kochi Beach’ we quickly discovered it wasn’t so much a beach as a pile of stone and unfortunately quite a lot of litter, with the view of Cochin Sea Port directly ahead. Despite that I loved walking along the water and in and out of the market stalls.
We also went to see a traditional theatre performance called Kathakali - it cost 700 rupees (less than £10) for both of our tickets. We decided to go early to watch them apply their make up and it was impressive. The cast are all men but they play male and female roles so it was fascinating, and a little odd, to watch. There’s an option to stay on and watch the full performance but we’re glad we didn’t. It was 1.5hrs (2.5 including make-up application) and although I really appreciate the art, 2.5hrs was enough for me.
Without a doubt our fave place to eat and work was Qissa and it got to the point where I didn’t need to say my order he just knew what I was going to have “Ice coffee with coconut milk and honey and an avocado salad with garlic toast!” YUM! The ice coffee reminded me of my fave drink from home by Rebel Kitchen 😍
Each night we worked our way through most of the Tripadvisor top 10 and tried so many awesome dishes. The best night had to be at The Old Harbour Hotel - sitting in the garden under something similar to a willow tree, that was all lit up by candles and fairy lights whilst listening to local music - it was magical! They also serve wine at this particular hotel so I was in my happy place. Alcohol isn’t part of the culture in India and not many places serve it other than the fancy hotels. Having a nice crisp glass of Sauv Blanc went down a treat!
Other cool cafes included Teapot which has a number of different teas and teapots on display. Kashi, which is an art gallery and cafe that makes a yum ice tea! Oy’s which is run but the Oy’s brothers and every piece of furniture inside was handcrafted by the brothers and their friends. I really enjoyed the fruit and granola bowl at Loafers and we had a phenomenal lunch at Sutra which is a North Indian Mexican restaurant.
There’s so much food to try and plenty of different cuisines to enjoy which has been super handy for us as we’re a bit weak when it comes to spicy food. Mild curry over here is usually at least a medium on the spicy scale we are used to at home, even if they tell you it’s not spicy - it usually is - so keep that in mind if you visit. I’ve noticed that a lot of dishes that you wouldn’t expect to be spicy often contain chilli’s or A LOT of black pepper - so if you’re really not a fan of anything with heat, double check. Most places are happy to provide some fresh yoghurt to mix in with your curry if it’s a little too hot and it usually does the trick. Two places we found that did an amazing mild curry were Mary’s Kitchen and Fusion Bay. Go for the aubergine curry at Fusion Bay and you will not be disappointed, one of the best meals I’ve had on this trip! I find with a lot of mild curries they end up being bland without the spice, whereas these were still full of flavour without blowing your head off.
I also love the ‘deconstructed’ fizzy drinks over here like lime soda where you can add your own honey or sugar syrup - you realise just how much sugar is in the fizzy drinks we have at home when you have to mix it yourself.
Fort Kochi completely surprised me and in all the best ways. Although there was a lot of European history, it didn't feel westernised or touristy which I loved - we only saw a handful of travellers the whole two weeks we were there. It was just a laid back part of India steeped in familiar history. The people were so lovely and helpful, particularly our hosts at Namaste Guest house who were so accommodating. For £16 per night we really couldn't have asked for more!
If you're heading to South India or need a break from the cultural overwhelm of other areas - take a mini trip to Fort Kochi!