Owing to economic air travel options, direct flights, favourable visa policies and more, Indians are now taking short international trips instead of travelling domestically.
“Every year we wait for summers to go on a family holiday. Last year we travelled to Leh (Jammu & Kashmir), but this time we wanted to make our trip memorable as the holiday was especially to celebrate my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. We started looking for packages and in the process came across many international destinations, and visiting them was almost as economical as holidaying in India. So, we visited Pattaya and Bangkok (Thailand) for a week,” says Yuvan Kumar, a VFX student in New Delhi. Known for its beaches, animal safaris, street food and the famous marine world, Thailand is one of the best pocket-friendly international destinations from India. “Even after the fact that THB 1 equals around INR 2.15, the place is full of budget accommodations, shopping places and other experiences for Indians. Tuk-tuks in Thailand are otherwise cheap but in the tourist areas, they charge more than double sometimes. So for us, metro was the best way to commute,” he adds.
Floating markets, scuba diving and water sports, Pattaya walking street, and Thailand’s famous som tam (papaya salad) are some attractions that are worth an experience when in the country.
As the sun shines brighter in India, a trip to the mountains in the country is one of the first things an average Indian thinks of during the summer season. However of late, more and more Indians are taking their week-long breaks outside the country, even if it is under similar weather conditions owing to the availability of budget accommodations, discounted air travel, and other factors.
Other than Thailand, another such place is Singapore. Here you can shop at both local and international stores along Orchard Road, or enjoy some musical trees in Gardens by the Bay. According to the latest Hotel Price Index (HPI), Indian travellers are repeatedly travelling to short-haul destinations in the Asia Pacific region, especially to Singapore.
“The hawker centre in Chinatown is the place to have a meal – it is both delicious and budget-friendly. We could buy a complete meal for a little more than INR 1,000 for three people,” says Shreya Joshi, who visited Singapore in June this year
For a shoestring traveller, the Mustafa Centre is open 24 hours and sells everything from groceries and electronics to gold at good prices. From its street food and the famous Marina Bay Sands, to artificially built waterfalls and flower gardens – Singapore has been a famous holiday destination for Indians looking for a quick trip.
Witnessing the rise in Indians spending on short-haul foreign trips, airlines are also looking at directly connecting to these destinations. Low cost airline Indigo is working to include 24 international destinations over the next 17 months. The new routes will include 18 short-haul destinations in South-East Asia, China and the Middle East. Moreover, between March and October this year, the airline will connect Indian cities to destinations like Bhutan, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Malaysia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia (Riyadh) and the UAE (Abu Dhabi).
Vistara too, is set to start its short-haul international operations connecting south Asian destinations and other Asian destinations that are two-four hours away followed by ones that are three-five hours away.
Further, in comparison to flight fares last year, average international fares have dropped by around 19 pc. This, plus additional discounts offered by travel portals enable travellers to plan outbound trips even on smaller budgets.
Famous for being one of the best backpacking destinations, Sri Lanka is one such budget-friendly destination. “We got a six-day package to Sri Lanka from a travel agency in 2016. From mountains and forests to beaches, you can experience these different worlds within just four hours,” says Gurmehar Sodhi, a media graduate from New Delhi.
“It sure is light on the pocket. Travelling on public transport is both fun and cheap. But for people who can’t do without Indian food, it’s a little tough. There’s Sri Lankan food, seafood and continental everywhere but not Indian, even in hotels; at least in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Bentota,” she adds.
Another ideal neighbour surrounded by hilly villages and Buddhist prayer flags is Nepal – one of the best budget-friendly international trips for Indians with the Indian Rupee dominating over the Nepalese Rupee.
Hostels in places like Kathmandu start from as low as INR 500 for one night per person while a 4-star hotel would also not cost too much–around INR 3,000/night on an average. Nagarkot, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Pokhara, Chitwan National Park, and the gorge of Seti River, are some of the attractions in the country. Nepal is also the best bet if you want cooler temperatures on a budget. For the love of shopping and amazing street food, think Malaysia – one of the major tourist hubs in South-East Asia. Enjoy a meal along the Singapore River, day tour to Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary, visit the Batu Caves and temple or the Petronas Towers – this place has everything for each type of traveller. Just learn some basic words and phrases, and smile all the time while visiting these neighbouring countries.
Off the Beaten Path
Bhutan for Backpackers
Also known as the ‘land of the thunder dragons’ Bhutan boasts of unexplored monasteries and mountain views. Though the country may seem expensive because of the minimum tariff tourists have to pay per day, this fee is all-inclusive – accommodation, food, transport and an official guide. The best way to experience the country is either by foot or by road so don’t forget to pack your walking shoes.
Timeless Charm of Vietnam
Round air trip to the country can cost as low as INR 15,000 per person, only when planned at least four months in advance. Major cities like Hanoi, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh and others host economic hostels, dormitory rooms and hotels. The best way to save time and money is to enjoy a boat cruise besides visiting local markets, islands and wildlife sanctuaries.
Culturally Diverse Indonesia
Apart from Bali, Indonesia is home to other rich spectacles as well – Java, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Sumatra and more! Enjoy the many spa treatments, water sports, volcano trails, and indulge in the local street food for as little as INR 150 per meal. When in Indonesia, it is best to visit selected cities as budget accommodation can be limited and flying from one island to another is expensive.
Enjoy Hong Kong’s Skyline
While Hong Kong is generally expensive, it offers plenty of bargains – eat noodles and dumplings at the food market for less than INR 100 at the KwongWa Street, hike on the Dragon’s back trail, or visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art (free entry on Wednesdays). Temple Street Night Market is one of the best shopping areas – just say ‘Tai Gwai la’ (it is too expensive), for a better bargain.