Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

Overview and overall impression
This was a brief four days trip to Kerala, done as a stopover when flying from Munich to Malaysia, with the idea of visiting a couple of locations in Kerala. While planning the trip I evaluated whether to make a stop in the Munnar hill station and/or at the Periyar lake wildlife reserve.
I ended up cancelling both places, mainly due to lack of time, but also because, having already visited the Cameron highlands in Malaysia, I probably would have seen again the same kind of place. Regarding Periyar, I read reports that it is difficult to spot wildlife. Also, I got feedback that getting from place to place takes a lot of time in Kerala, despite the relatively short distances.
The backwaters trip was interesting, even if perhaps the backwaters are a bit overrated, or perhaps I should have taken a houseboat trip lasting several days and covering a larger section of the backwaters. The overnight trip I took just made a small round in the backwaters and made no stops in the villages.
These trips effectively last half a day, because you leave at noon and continue until sunset and the next day you wake up, have breakfast and are disembarked immediately after that by 9am.
Kochi, or let's say the historic centre of it, is an interesting place full of colonial era buildings. It has its own charming atmosphere, especially all those roads covered by tree canopies. It could be a jewel, if it was cleaner and the tourist infrastructure was better.
The waterfront along the Arabian sea is astonishingly underdeveloped. In just any other city of the world such a waterfront would be full of cafes, shops and restaurants, but in Kochi there is absolutely nothing, not even benches where to sit down to watch the sunset. By the way, lots of beggars in Kochi, constantly asking tourists for money.
Outside of Kochi the situation is messy. The traffic on the streets actually is not even that bad, but there is a lot of mess and dirt on the streets.
The largest and flashiest mall in and around Kochi seems to be the Oberon mall in Ernakulam, but this mall is rather unimpressive, if compared to malls in southeast Asia or Dubai.

Costs in Kerala are quite moderate, and it is possible to stay in a decent hotels for 20-30 Euro (depending on how you book). Probably the exchange rate helps, since the Euro has surprisingly appreciated with respect to the Indian rupee in recent years despite all the Euro crisis. Meals are in the range of 200-600 Rs, depending on where you eat.

Meals are relatively inexpensive and actually delicious. The only problem is that you have to be very careful about what to order, because lots of dishes are very, very spicy.
In Kochi it took me a day or so to figure out where the restaurants are, because they are not everywhere or where you would think they should be.

I spent a night in a not so great hotel in Alappuzha. I found this in the Lonely Planet guide, and looking back I think I should have booked something better through one of the big hotel booking portals. The accomodation on the house boat was not bad, even if A/C was only available at night and the food served sucked. I guess I was just unlucky and probably there are better houseboats elsewhere. The best hotel was the one in Kochi, which was good value. I booked it through a hotel booking portal, where I could check and compare ratings and feedback.
I think the time of guidebooks as sources of hotel addresses are over, because guidebooks, by the time they are printed, are already hopelessly outdated, and the information shown there often is of mediocre quality. Hotel booking portals by contrast with their wealth of information, direct customer feedback and ratings are excellent and the way to go when booking a room. If you travel with a smartphone with internet access, you can even look for places and make bookings when travelling.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2012)
1 Euro = 69 INR
1 Euro = 1.27 USD
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
I spent about 500 Rs at the airport in Kochi to get a SIM card from Vodafone with some airtime and a 1GB data package (of which I only used a small fraction). Lots of questions, forms to fill out, photos of me taken at the airport, before I was allowed to get the SIM card. The coverage was ok, but a couple of days later I got a message that the SIM card would be blocked because I had not provided my registration data. Probably somebody had made a mistake, since all possible data about me had been collected at the airport. Due to this, I would not recommend a Vodafone SIM card in India.

Internet access
To access the Internet I used the mobile phone and the WLAN network of the hotel in Kochi. I can't remember having seen Internet cafes.

Despite visiting at the tail end of the monsoon season, the weather was very good all the time, except for the last day.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set of vaccinations for the tropics.

VISA / Entry requirements
A visa is needed for most nationals. It could be cheaper (paid 67 Euro for it at the consulate in Munich) and easier to get (you need non-standard 2" x 2" photos, they ask lots of questions, the full details of your parents, whether your grandparents are or have ever been Pakistani nationals etc.) and could be more flexible. In theory it's double-entry, in practice it's so that there are some restrictions to the reentry, i.e. you cannot reenter whenever you want, you must submit a travel itinerary. After having been once to India you have to wait for a while before being allowed to reenter the country. It's so as if India didn't like tourists.

I had the impression that security was good. Lots of hassle on the street in Kochi, but no criminality. Quite a safe place to visit.

Recommended things
  • Kochi is sort of nice, although there is not much to see.
  • The backwaters trip was nice, but too short.

Things to avoid
  • If you do a backwaters trip, perhaps avoid the one-night trip and take a multiple-day trip with a more interesting itinerary.

Getting around
I relied on taxis to get from one place to the next. In Kochi it is possible to walk, since the place is not too big.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon