Chennai and the train ride to Goa with Vasco da Gama express 2A class in India
On the first of November, it was time to go to India. We found cheap tickets to Chennai and we thought it would be a good idea to see a southern city. Therefor our port of entry has been Chennai. We made new friends trough couchsurfing. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Chennai, but it was enough to get an impression. In this blog we want to share our experiences about transportation, people, food and drinks, the weather and some other useful information such as the exchange rate, sim card providers (for internet) and purchase of train tickets.
First impression about Chennai
We could already see it from up in the air when our plane was about to land. The city looked soaked. During October till the end of January, Chennai has heavy rainfall. Though there is rain it’s definitely not cold. It was round 28 degrees during our short stay. We took a cab from the airport since we couldn’t find any busses (note that we did not check before landing if there are busses from the airport to the city center). Apparently there are buses outside the terminal, but it’s a long walk, not very handy if you have heavy baggage. There a lot of prepaid taxi’s. A normal taxi should charge you no more than 250 INR (3.86 USD) for a ride to the centrum, however these taxi’s see you as easy money and charge 400/500 INR. We paid 400 INR (6.18 USD) to get to Thiruvanmiyur (close to central). Once we arrived, our friends told us that it was a rip off and we should have paid an amount round 200 INR.
Cows on the streets shouldn’t surprise you, even though it’s a big city. Since there is a lot of rain, wearing flip-flops is a good idea. Once we needed to buy some food for dinner and we had to walk trough the heavy rainfall, the streets honestly looked like rivers.
Although Chennai has a coast, swimming is not advised by locals. The water is very deep and wild. The beaches are not accommodated. You can think of Chennai as a Tamil Nadu city which shows the South Indian culture as one of the bigger cities. We suggest to hang around this city for a few days to understand the local life of South India.
Food and drinks with our friends in Chennai
Close to the place we were staying, our friends recommended us the neighborhood of Besant Nagar. We have been told that the best coffee, is coffee from South India. The coffee our friend made at home was also delicious though. It was a mix of coffee, milk, water, sugar and last but most important: cinnamon. We also got fresh Indian tea. With its different flavors such as ginger and cinnamon, it’s a real treat.
Breakfast in Besant Nagar was good as well. We had an South Indian traditional breakfast. We had Poori and Vada (both some kinds of bread, fried and comes with different Indian sauces such as a coconut mix).
We love the Indian food. In the beginning we had to get used to the spicy dishes but after a while we got used to them. You just need to try them. If you would like to start safe, (eat meals which are not too mixed and not too far from our western kitchen), try Biryani, fried rice, chicken tandoori. We also love the different kinds of roti. Plain roti is just flat bread made of whole wheat flour. Then you have the naan, similar but made with different flour. Also the method of cooking can be different. Roti is in general cooked in tawa (flat skillet) or in a tandoor (oven), naan is cooked in a tandoor. Roti also comes with filling. In India these are called paratha roti. These can be eaten plain as well, then the difference with the other basic roti is that the plain paratha still has layers and the plain roti doesn’t.
Purchase of Indian train tickets (class and price explained)
Purchasing train tickets can be a tricky business in India. Do not get us wrong, the system works very well, but there are so many trains and you need to figure out which stations exactly to use.
You can book all trains from http://www.indianrail.gov.in/. You can make payments with your credit card. Do note that you need to have an Indian phone number. This is the case for a lot of applications by the way.
We needed to go to Goa. There is an express train which goes from Chennai to final destination Vasco da Gama and is called Vasco da Gama express – (train number: 17311). It departs every Friday at 15.00 from Chennai. In this train you can choose between 2A, 3A and sleeper class.
The prices are as below:
- 2A class: 1.900 INR (29.38 USD)
- 3A class: 1.300 INR (20.10 USD)
- Sleeper class: 480 INR (7.42 USD)
This train takes 22 hours. We honestly didn’t know which class to take since we are trying to travel as cheap as possible, but didn’t wanted to end up in a overcrowded place where we would feel bad. Because it would be our first train experience and take so much hours, we decided to book 2A. This was a wise decision. The train ride was long but comfortable. 2A class means, one bank space where you normally sit, turns in 2 beds, one on top of the other and you have air-conditioning.
The beds are not bad at all, you can lie down and 2A class feels safe, therefor have a good night rest. Most of the passengers we saw at 2A were families. We took the chance to see the other classes as well. We definitely don’t recommend the sleepers class for long distances. These wagons are crowded, don’t have air-conditioning and to be honest some of them have a bad smell. 3A might be a better option if you still want to travel cheap. 3A is like 2A only with 3 beds per area.
We bought our tickets online, one day before our trip. There was something strange though. We didn’t receive seat numbers. The next day we arrived at Chennai Central station one hour before departure and asked about our seats. The guy said that the status of our tickets is ‘’waiting list’’. We immediately got to the reservation desk, and got the seating numbers there. So one advice we can give you is, check the status of your ticket and make sure to get it right before you get in the train. In general: don’t forget it’s India, not a European country where everything is on point. Therefor get earlier where you want to be to avoid last moment surprises.
First of all, don’t exchange your money at the airport!!! The airport gives you a way too low exchange rate and charges tax on top of it. Our 50 USD made only 2.700 INR. The exchange amount would normally be: 3.234 INR. This means a loss of 534 INR (8.25 USD).
We got a sim card of Vodafone trough your Indian friends which provides 85 days internet, with 1 GB per day, for 450 INR (6.96 USD).
When you have an Indian number, get the taxi app Ola. This way you have at least a reference point of price, and will not get ripped of with unreasonable prices. However still be careful, as the price can increase if the taxi driver makes more km (they do it when you don’t pay attention), just let them know you don’t want tp pay more than what the app shows before the driver starts to drive. One time we experienced that Ola said 230 INR, but the guy just kept driving in circles around the central station of Chennai, claiming he couldn’t get in. Then eventually he wanted 360 INR.